Suns falter in 4th quarter, fall to Nuggets

PHOENIX — Wilson Chandler‘s big game Saturday brought back memories.

“It felt like a throw-back,” Chandler said.

It looked like a throw-down.

Chandler scored 26 points, Will Barton had 25 point and the Denver Nuggets used an extended second-half run to take control in a 123-113 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Nikola Jokic had 21 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and Gary Harris had 13 points for the Nuggets, who have won four of five.

The Nuggets used a 36-15 run to take a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter, and Chandler hit two 3-pointers from the right corner to nail it down after the Suns closed to 109-103 with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.

“Today the ball was finding me,” Chandler said.

Chandler was 11 for 15 from the floor. His previous high this season was 21, and bothered by illness he had only 22 points in the previous four games. He had a career-high 36 against Sacramento last year.

“We don’t win the game without Wilson,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“I love it when he is aggressive. Our guys did a great job of finding him, and Wilson did the rest by stepping in and making timely 3s down the stretch.”

TJ Warren had 31 points and Dragan Bender had a career-high 23 for the Suns, who have lost five in a row, 10 of 11 and 13 of 15. One of those wins came in Denver on Jan. 19. Their only other victory in that stretch was against Dallas at home.

Barton scored 11 points during a 21-9 run that gave the Nuggets a 94-89 lead after three quarters, and Denver scored the first five points of the fourth quarter for a 13-point cushion.

Jokic’s 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 109-95 with 6:29 remaining, capping a longer 36-15 run.

Marquese Chriss‘ fast-break dunk closed the Suns’ deficit to 109-103 with 4:29 remaining, but Barton hit a 3-pointer and Chandler hit two from the right corner to put away the game.

Elfrid Payton made a strong first impression for the Suns with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds in 35 minutes. He was acquired from Orlando at the trade deadline Thursday.

“The pace of play was better,” Suns interim coach Jay Triano said.

“He made the guys on the floor with him better. Getting the ball up and down the floor, getting into the lane when he needed to. I think it will only improve as he understands who can do different things for us.”

Josh Jackson had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Suns played without leading scorer Devin Booker, Tyson Chandler and Tyler Ulis.

Booker, who is 12th in the league with 24.1 points per game, has missed the last three games with a hip pointer. Chandler was out with a neck injury and Ulis with back spasms.

Phoenix made a much better showing than in the previous game Wednesday, a 129-81 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday that tied the Suns’ worst ever. They set the record against Portland on opening night this season.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: The Nuggets are one of six teams within 3 1/2 games of each other in the race for the final four playoff spots in the West.

Suns: Phoenix was 14 of 25 from the free throw line, with Warren 5 of 9 and Josh Jackson 0 of 3.

BOOKER UPDATE

The Suns have only two games remaining until the All-Star break, but there is no plan to keep Booker and his sore hip out until after the break as precautionary measure.

“It depends completely on his injury,” Triano said. “I don’t think it makes sense to rush him back if he is not a hundred percent or there is chance of re-injury or causing some long-term damage.

“He wants to play. He is down in the gym shooting. He shoots a little bit and then he starts to move and it kind of hits him where this doesn’t feel great.”

Booker has missed three straight games with a hip injury after missing one game two weeks ago with a rib injury.

HARRIS ARRIVES

Nuggets guard Devin Harris had nine points and two steals in 22 minutes in his first game since being acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline Thursday.

Harris landed in Phoenix on Saturday morning and took part in a breakfast meeting and the morning walk-through. Nuggets assistants Wes Unseld and Micah Nori met with Harris to go over the Nuggets’ sets, defensive principles and terminology.

“At the end of the day, most teams are doing the same things, just different vernacular, if you will,” Malone said. “For him to get comfortable with terminology will be the biggest thing. When he is out there, we’ll keep it simple.”

UP NEXT

Suns: Visit Warriors on Monday.

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