Nuggets grab road win over Suns on strong efforts from Barton, Jokic and Chandler

Feb 10, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) is walked back to the bench by head coach Michael Malone after an altercation in the first half against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets traveled to Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix on Saturday night for a matchup with the Suns, looking to bounce back from a lopsided loss to Houston one night prior. Denver returned to form with a 123-113 win over the shorthanded Suns.

This was a good opportunity to get back to their winning ways — despite being on the road, the Nuggets were the heavy favorites as the Suns were without Devin Booker, Tyson Chandler and Tyler Ulis. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition, Devin Harris, saw his first action for head coach Michael Malone.

The game opened with a bang. Less than three minutes in and with the score reading 9-5 in Denver’s favor, Will Barton got into it with Troy Daniels of Phoenix.

Barton took issue with the way Daniels grabbed his shoulder on the way down while contesting a layup. The jawed went back and forth before Barton approached Daniels in the corner. Daniels shoved Barton and their respective teammates closed in to break up the scuffle. Barton charged at Daniels one last time, but was pulled away. Both players were assessed technicals.

The Nuggets were in control for most of the quarter and shot it well from the field. Barton converted on a fast break layup to beat the buzzer and the Nuggets carried a 28-23 lead into the second.

New acquisition Devin Harris checked into the game as a Nugget for the very first time with just a few minutes remaining in the first and was out there with other bench players Trey Lyles and Darrell Arthur alongside starters Barton and Wilson Chandler to start the second. The Nuggets remained locked in offensively, but they had a difficult time containing Phoenix. Despite being without their best scorer, Booker, Phoenix went shot-for-shot with Denver as three of their players finished the half in double figures.

T.J. Warren was getting whatever he wanted on offense for Phoenix. He tore through Denver’s porous defense, dropping 18 points on 8-for-10 from the field. He didn’t take a single 3-pointer in the first half, but he had his way with Denver’s defense in between the hoop and the the 3-point line in the second quarter. Denver’s interior defense struggled all half long — Pheonix held a 32-22 advantage in points in the paint after the first 24 minutes of play.

The Nuggets turned to Nikola Jokic to close the second. They fed him down low repeatedly, and while he didn’t have his best shooting half, he routinely drew contact and trips to the free throw line. The big Serbian finished the half with 14 points on 3-of-8 from the field, but he was 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.

Production at the line was crucial for Denver. Despite losing the points in the paint battle, the turnover battle, the assist battle, and taking four less shots than Phoenix in the first half, Denver held a 62-60 lead thanks to a 14-for-16 performance at the stripe.

The Nuggets, who are one of the best third quarter teams in the league, failed to make a big push in the third. Denver continued to struggle protecting the paint. The Suns scored 12 more points down low and actually briefly captured the lead in third. But the Nuggets would eventually retake the lead and they never looked back.

While the Nuggets never really found an answer to Warren or the rest of the Suns’ siege on their interior defense, they were able to outscore them and run away with things in the fourth. The Nuggets hit six of their 13 three pointers of the night in the fourth quarter. Two of those threes came from Wilson Chandler, who has been in-and-out of the rotation lately thanks to some vague health issues. He scored a season-high 26 points, though, and 11 of those came in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets outscored the Suns 29-24 in the final quarter as they secured the 123-113 victory.

Chandler was one of three Nuggets starters to crack 20 points on the night. Barton and Jokic had 25 and 21 respectively. Free-throw shooting and 3-point shooting salvaged what could easily have been a lost game for Denver; the Nuggets were outscored in the paint by 20 points, outscored in fastbreak points by 11, and recorded less assists, while conceding 20 points off turnovers.

With the win, the Nuggets improve to 30-26 on the season and 8-19 away from the Pepsi Center. Denver will have two days off before they host the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night. That game tips off at 8:30 p.m. MST.