DENVER (AP) — Chris Paul hit a clutch jumper with 7.3 seconds remaining after a successful coach’s challenge on the other end and the Phoenix Suns moved to 5-1 for the first time since 2009-10 by holding off the scuffling Denver Nuggets 106-103 on Friday night.
With Phoenix leading 102-100 with around 30 seconds remaining, Mikal Bridges was called for a foul that would’ve sent Gary Harris to the line. But Suns coach Monty Williams successfully challenged the play, with replays showing Bridges slid underneath Harris with no contact.
Phoenix won the jump ball and Paul hit a jumper to send the Suns to the victory after blowing a 16-point lead. Jamal Murray’s shot at the buzzer rimmed out.
Deandre Ayton had 22 points and 11 rebounds, Devin Booker added 22, and Paul 21 for Phoenix, which won the night before in Utah. The red-hot Suns have won 13 of their last 14 dating to their perfect stint inside the NBA bubble.
Nikola Jokic finished with 17 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds despite foul trouble. The Denver’ big man is posting big numbers but his production isn’t translating into wins as the Nuggets fell to 1-4. The Nuggets are struggling to find their rhythm after making the Western Conference finals last season.
Murray returned from a bruised right elbow and found his range early, scoring 14 of his 31 points in the first quarter. The Nuggets were missing forward Michael Porter Jr., who was held out in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols concerning COVID-19. Gone with him were 19.5 points per game.
Phoenix appeared on its way to an easy win when Booker extended the lead to to 87-71 on a 3-pointer with 2:17 left in the third. Monte Morris gave the Nuggets a 98-97 lead on a 3-pointer with 2:41 remaining. But Paul then hit two free throws and Booker a 3-pointer to restore some separation down the stretch.
It was the first win by the Suns in the Mile High City since Jan. 19, 2018.
Suns: F Dario Saric (sore right quad) sat out on the second night of a back-to-back as a precaution. “We’re just trying to be careful,” Williams explained. … Williams said F/C Jalen Smith (sprained left ankle) is “on a course to be back here soon.”
Nuggets: F JaMychal Green scored eight points in his Nuggets debut. The free-agent pickup missed the start of the season with a strained left calf.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone is using the situation with Porter as a way to further emphasize the importance of adhering to all of the safety protocols in regard to the virus. Porter could miss multiple games because of contact tracing.
“These are real protocols. They’re in place for a reason,” Malone said. “Unfortunate, but this is the current situation we’re in.”
PRAISE FOR PAUL
Count Malone as a big fan of Paul, who was acquired by the Suns as part of their trade with Oklahoma City.
“A first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Malone said.
Paul Millsap recently equated Jokic’s pinpoint passes leading to easy baskets with receiving free cheeseburgers.
“I don’t eat cheeseburgers. But if they’re free and come to me, I’m going to eat a few,” Millsap cracked.
Suns: Begin a two-game homestand Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nuggets: At Minnesota on Sunday. The Nuggets have an eight-game winning streak over the Timberwolves.
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