Game Notes: Nuggets at Suns
Suns secure home court advantage in First Round.
by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr
On a night when the referees couldn’t resist setting their shiny new brushed aluminum Apple iWhistles to “random” to test the advertised battery life, the Denver Nuggets’ interior spent more time on the bench or in the locker room than on the floor and the Phoenix Suns took advantage for a 123-101 win that was effectively over around the time gravity took its hold on the opening tip.
The win, which joined forces with the Utah Jazz victory over the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night to form the Western Conference Playoffs first round home court advantage Voltron, left one task for the Suns: defeat the Jazz themselves Wednesday night to set themselves as the third seed in the West and possibly push off a Lakers showdown for another round.
Such shenanigans were outside the focus of Suns coach Alvin Gentry before the game with the usual notes missing from whiteboards in his office, replaced with “Just Win” over his left shoulder. After the game, Gentry drove the point home: “We’re playing to win, guys.”
The referees, which would have an outsized impact on a possible Suns/Nuggets 4/5 pairing due to Denver’s physical nature, left their crater on this game early with two especially gentle fouls by Nene in the first four minutes followed by two more flightless fouls from Chris Andersen in the next four. Forced to go small, Nuggets interim coach Adrian Dantley slipped Ty Lawson into the lineup and hoped for the best.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, the best was not left to come and a 20-4 opening run for the Suns preceded the move. Denver mentally and physically checked out after that. Nene earned a defensive 3-second violation barely two minutes into the second frame, followed shortly his third caressing foul. Back in with Chris Anderson, back out with his third three minutes later. And so on.
(To be fair, Gentry also earned a fourth-quarter tech and his bench received a second-quarter bench warning for illegal use of pants. Really. After a combined 29 first-half fouls of a somewhat arbitrary nature, everyone had earned their consternation.)
The Nuggets closed their night out early with two consecutive technical fouls on Dantley and Chauncey Billups with 90 seconds left in a frustrating first half and the three key bigs for the Nuggets each with three fouls (including a fairly immobile Kenyon Martin). Martin didn’t return in the second half with tendinitis of the patella in that troublesome left knee and JR Smith left the court soon after his night ended early in the fourth.
“I want to compete; I want to play,” Kenyon Martin emphasized after the game. “But with the way I was feeling (about the knee), it was just for precautionary reasons.” Would you have played in a closer game? “I don’t know.” Would you have been out there in the Playoffs, which start this weekend? “It’s safe to say that.”
Carmelo Anthony racked up 29 points on 28 shots on a night representative of the Nuggets’ meager 42 percent from the floor. Anthony played 39 minutes on a night when no Sun managed 31 minutes and when he picked up three personal fouls in a four-minute stretch that could only be described as a cry for help from Dantley.
The Suns led by as much as 28 in this game on the strength of 14-24 three-point shooting and an 18-rebound advantage for Phoenix, no famous glass cleaners themselves. Without the Denver height to contend with, Amar’e Stoudemire achieved 26 points and 8 rebounds on only 16 shots in 28 minutes.
Amar’e being aggressive was the key to the game, JMZ Suns analyst Jared Dudley told SLAMonline after the game. “They were playing bullyball out there. They like to switch everything. When they switch everything, you have to exploit it and I thought we did in the first half.”
Grant Hill was downright effusive after the game, almost allowing himself to dream on the future. “Last year, we were playing to get me 24 points the last game of the season so I could get a bonus from Nike. It’s not fun to be playing for nothing. Now we’re playing for something; it’s fun.”
Hill appeared almost superstitious as he considered possibly his last best shot at a deep Playoff run. “There’s a chance. I don’t want to put it out there, but you look at the teams and we feel we can play with anybody.”
The Suns have that final regular season showdown against Utah in Salt Lake City Wednesday while the Nuggets await their first-round Playoff opponent.
– Robin Lopez has effectively been counted out by Alvin Gentry in the first round, though he will be on the postseason roster.
– Jared Dudley promised his Twitter followers a taste of the game on the bus afterward, discussing his fourth dunk of the season and the Suns win. In that order, Jared? “In that order.” Alright, Jared, tell us about that dunk. “I went baseline. I looked at Kenyon. He looked at me. I asked him if he was gonna jump. He said no. I banged it.” If you see the play, you’ll understand why Dudley thinks there might have been enough time for a Sergio Leone showdown.
– Gentry’s choice for Coach of the Year? Nate McMillan. “He loses his top two centers. He loses (Nicolas) Batum. He loses (Rudy) Fernandez. Then those guys come back and Brandon Roy is out. To win 50 games in the West with all that going on… What Nate has done is just a little bit better.” Honorable mention: Scott Brooks.
– Who do you want to play in the Playoffs, Kenyon? “We ain’t got no choice. Who we gotta play, we gotta play. We ain’t duckin’ nobody. Trust me.” (Needless to say, Dudley didn’t make his dunk comments within earshot of Martin.)