In one of their first big tests on the road this season, the Denver Nuggets went into Phoenix and earned a hard-fought W.

The Nuggets defeated the Phoenix Suns 119-111 in what was initially an all-out offensive affair. The Nuggets and Suns went back and forth scoring in the first few minutes, and when Phoenix’s jump shots finally started to dry up, the Nuggets gained some separation. The Suns fought back throughout the game and kept it close, even taking a brief lead at one point in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets had other plans, led by Nikola Jokic.

Jokic only had 21 points on 9-of-18 from the field tonight. His scoring wasn’t at peak level, but his passing was. Jokic had 16 assists on the evening compared to just three turnovers, setting the table from everybody and anybody that wanted an open shot. From the opening tip, Jokic was seeing every opportunity to create shots for teammates, and he piled up the assists through the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, he found some buckets, but it was his presence in the middle of the floor that continued creating shots for teammates.

On the other end, former Nugget Jusuf Nurkic had himself a game, scoring 31 points, almost all of those going against Jokic in the post or in the pick and roll. Nurkic was absolutely cooking and helped bring the Suns back in this game, but he ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. His final play – an elbow directly to Jokic’s face resulting in a flagrant foul that also happened to be his sixth of the game. Jokic hit one of the ensuing free throws, then made the next layup to effectively ice a close game.

As a result of those assists, the entire starting lineup plus Julian Strawther finished the game in double figures scoring. Reggie Jackson had an efficient 20 points and made the buckets look easy tonight. Michael Porter Jr. had 19 points to go with 10 rebounds, four assists, and three stocks, another all-around performance from MPJ. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a clutch three in the right corner in front of the Suns bench and had 15 efficient points. Even Justin Holiday got in on the action with 15 points and five assists on 6-of-8 from the field.

38 assists for the Nuggets tonight compared to just nine turnovers should encapsulate just how good Denver’s offense was.

The Nuggets have struggled at times without Jamal Murray in the lineup, who sat with a sprained ankle sustained against the Houston Rockets. Tonight, they were cool, calm, and collected, generating good shots while forcing the Suns to take tough shots down the stretch. Credit for that can go in many different directions, but the most important contributor was Peyton Watson.

Without Aaron Gordon tonight, the Nuggets brought in Watson early off the bench to guard Kevin Durant. The Slim Reaper made his first four shots of the game before Watson checked in. After that, Durant shot 4-of-21 from the field, including 0-of-10 in the second half. It was just the second time in Durant’s career that he was held without a bucket on 10+ attempts in a half, and Watson was the reason why. The 21-year-old rookie attached himself to Durant like super glue, sometimes committing some (questionable) fouls but ultimately forcing Durant into tougher and tougher shots. Making Durant work for his looks is the biggest key, and Watson was able to do that tonight.

Every player that touched the floor made contributions tonight, even Christian Braun and DeAndre Jordan. Braun had eight points, four assists, four rebounds, and a steal. Jordan set great screens to help free up Jackson and Braun in particular in those second unit minutes. The Nuggets needed everybody tonight during Nurkic’s reckoning, and they got exactly what they needed.

Now, Denver goes to face the Sacramento Kings on the second night of a back-to-back tomorrow night. We will see what happens and whether any of Denver’s injured starters are able to return. If not, Sacramento is suddenly a tough place to play, and the Nuggets may have some trouble.

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