Knight Scores 38, Rallies Suns Past Nuggets
After a tough loss against the Bulls in Phoenix, the Suns traveled to Denver to take on the Nuggets for the second time of this young season. After controlling the game in the first outing, the Suns looked to duplicate that performance on the road.
After jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead, the Nuggets fought to not repeat the lackluster performance in the first quarter of the last meeting between the teams. PJ Tucker got two quick fouls in the first quarter, so TJ Warren got early minutes after missing the previous game with the flu. The Suns controlled the pace throughout most of the first quarter, and were aggressive going to the basket. Trying to draw the foul with a little over three minutes left in the quarter, Knight fell to the ground grasping his ankle. He went to the locker room limping, after looking as if it was a rolled ankle. Ronnie Price and Archie Goodwin got into the game after the Knight injury, and with Alex Len subbing in and later Mirza Teletovic, were the first members off the bench. With the starters out, the Nuggets were able to push the ball and take advantage of missed shots by the Suns. The Nuggets went on an 18-0 run at the end of the first, leading the Suns 29-17.
The beginning of the second had the Nuggets continuing to shoot hot, including shots from Darrel Arthur. Ronnie Price hit two 3’s to keep the Suns in the game, and Teletovic hit a turn around jumper as well as a 3 of his own. Knight returned to the line up in the second quarter after a timeout, playing mainly off ball with Price in the game. Knight’s first step looked slow because of the ankle, so was forced to try and beat his man with a series of crossovers. Forced to go small to try and get more space on the floor, the Suns were completely beat on the boards in he second quarter by the Nuggets. The Suns got into the bonus with five minutes left in the quarter, putting Tucker to the line a couple of times while boxing out on rebounds, but ultimately weren’t able to take advantage of the Nuggets and draw fouls. Down 63-49 going into the half, turning the ball over 12 times, and shooting 44% from the field, compared to the 54% the Nuggets shot.
After the half, the Suns fought to get back in the game. After being down by as much as 17 points, the Suns were able to go on a 12-0 run to get within five. Bledsoe and Knight played like they have throughout the season, playing aggressive and carrying the Suns on offense. Even when the Nuggets got a couple shots in a row and pushed the lead back to 13, the Suns fought back with a 9-1 run behind more strong play from Bledsoe. The Suns were able to close the gap to four points heading into the final quarter, with Bledsoe scoring 13 in the quarter.
The Suns continued to fight, alternating Bledsoe and Knight between the bench and lineup to keep both guys fresh. With eight minutes left in the fourth, the Suns took an 89-88 lead off of a John Leuer 3. The Nuggets were forced to take a timeout shortly after when Knight hit a 3 of his own the following possession. The lineup of Price, Knight, Booker, Teletovic and Leuer were able to force the Nuggets into bad shots, and fought for rebounds and second chance points. A sequence of a Teletovic 3 on the move, a block from Teletovic on the other end, and a corner 3 from Knight, the Suns were able to pull ahead by ten points with 4:26 left in the game. The Nuggets refused to give up the game, and pulled within five with an and one from Emmanuel Mudiay. The Suns pushed the lead to eleven, but the Nuggets scored another quick five points with 1:34 left in the game, making the score 110-104. Another Knight 3 put away the game with 22.6 left in the game,with the final score being 114-107.
Even after rolling his ankle, Knight was the star of the game, scoring 38 points with 11 rebounds and six assists. He shot 11-20 from the field, with 6-10 coming from deep and 10-12 from the free throw line. Knight also added in two steals and a block. Bledsoe scored 22 points of his own, marking his seventh game in a row scoring over 20 points. Teletovic scored 15 off the bench, and Price scored 10 of his own. The team as whole pushed their field goal percentage to 50% from the floor, 55.6% from deep and 76% from the free throw line. The Suns will now travel to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans in the first game of a back to back.
The back court of Knight and Bledsoe continue to play strong, scoring 60 of the Suns’ 114 points. They are playing as good as any back court that doesn’t have Steph Curry in it, and are the reason the Suns are 7-5.
The crunch-time lineup tonight consisted of Bledsoe-Knight-Price-Teletovic-Leuer, spaced the floor and played strong defense. The lineup was red hot from the field and pushed the Suns from ten points down, to up ten points. Booker could get some of the minutes in this lineup with one of Bledsoe or Knight on the bench, similar to what he did tonight. This three point guard variation won’t work against everyone, but will likely be used more by Hornacek throughout the season.
Markieff Morris scored nine points in his second game back from a knee sprain. He needs to work harder on defense if he is going to continue to convert his shot attempts at a low rate. Right now he is getting outplayed by the bench power forwards, and because of it won’t see as much crunch time minutes.
Archie Goodwin got five minutes off the bench at the beginning of the game, and then didn’t see the floor again. This is very similar to what happened last game, with Booker taking more of his minutes. That might be better for the team in the long run, the team would rather ease him into those minutes, but Goodwin and Sonny Weems are forcing Hornacek’s hand. Rotating Bledsoe and Knight on the bench helps solve this problem, but the team needs to be able to run an offense without one of those guys on the floor.