The Denver Nuggets controlled most of their game against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night until the fourth quarter when Phoenix went on a 14-4 run to take a 122-114 lead with 4:29 left. Denver couldn’t recover as the Suns won it 140-130 and reached their 60th win of the season.
“There is no moral victories this time of year but I was really pleased with how we played and the fact that we put ourselves in position to compete and beat this team down the stretch,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “We came up short but we can learn from it. I think failure is a great teacher if you’re willing to learn from it.”
The Nuggets led by as many as nine points and shot 59% from the field while out-rebounding the Suns 37-29. Despite their effort, the Nuggets committed way too many turnovers and essentially beat themselves. They turned the ball over 17 times which led to 30 points for the Suns and in the fourth quarter alone Denver turned it over six times for 12 points. The Nuggets also allowed the Suns to get to the line 29 times.
“They’re not a team that’s unbeatable,” Bones Hyland said. “We can beat them. We could’ve beat them tonight. It just takes all of us. It takes a high level of execution and low turnovers. That was a big part of the game tonight. We had a lot of turnovers that caused points on their end and we fouled jump shooters so many times tonight… stuff like that is something we can control. If we would’ve cut back on some of that stuff we would’ve put ourselves in a great position to win the game.”
The Suns went to the line 29 times with Devin Booker going 15 of 17 from that range. The three-time NBA All-Star was a problem on both ends of the floor and the Nuggets had no answer for him. He finished the night with 49 points, 10 assists and a few clutch steals down the stretch.
“It started early,” Malone said about Booker’s shootout. “We let him get going with a lack of discipline at times. He’s a great player… He had 15 points in the first quarter and we were running him out to the 3-point line like he wasn’t a shooter and I called a timeout and said he’s got 15 of their 21 points. Give him the attention he deserves and requires. Being around the league for 20-plus years once a guy gets on fire it’s really hard to put that fire out.”
In addition to his 15 first quarter points, Booker put up another 19 in the third to keep the Suns afloat and then it was Mikal Bridges in the fourth quarter with 15 points to help outscore Denver 36-24 and close out the game.
There was definitely some hard feelings displayed on the court between the Suns and the Nuggets especially after last year’s playoff run where Phoenix swept Denver in four games. There was a lot of trash talk going on which led to two technicals, one on Jae Crowder and the other on Jeff Green.
Rookie Bones Hyland didn’t let any of that chirping phase him though as he went off for 23 points, 19 of which came in the first half. He said he has been through much worse and heard much worse to let some harmless trash talk get to him and impact his game.
“I stay in my lane,” Hyland said. “I don’t just go up to anybody talking crazy or talking trash. That is not me. I talk to myself. I get myself pumped up and I like to get the crowd into it. Like I said it’s a competitive game and everybody was into it.”
Hyland is averaging 15 points on 52% shooting from the field and 51% shooting from beyond the arc in the month of March so far. He is an established shooter that Malone knows he can trust down the stretch so he decided to roll with Hyland for majority of the fourth quarter.
“I put him back in for Jeff late because he was having a very good night and he wound up with 23 points,” Malone said. “It wasn’t just tonight. His recent body of work has been very impressive for a rookie and just to give Jokic some more weapons out there… Bones can step up and make a big three. He is not afraid.”
Hyland went 4 of 8 from long range to hit his 116th 3-pointer of the season, breaking Jamal Murray’s record of 3-pointers made as a rookie for the Denver Nuggets.
“It means a lot to me,” Hyland said. “I put in so much work, time and craft on my game. I’ve just been blessed to be able to shoot the ball from deep and it’s a huge accomplishment for me. It’s not the stopping point for me but definitely going to tell Murray I got that.”
Nikola Jokic added 28 points, six rebounds and six assists while Aaron Gordon put up 21 points on 10 of 16 shooting. It was an all around good performance by Denver but it just wasn’t enough to beat the best team in the league.
The Nuggets have eight more games left of the regular season and host the Oklahoma City Thunder at Ball Arena on Saturday night. They currently sit in sixth place in the Western Conference standings with a 43-31 record and are a full game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Their main goal for the rest of the season is to avoid the play-in tournament, which is the 7-10 seeds. They face the Timberwolves next Friday, April 1 and this particular game can be a determining factor in their playoff fate.