PHOENIX (AP)—Along with facing a team on its best 15-game run since 1988, the Phoenix Suns had some adversity to overcome—the lack of their top scorer, and a trend toward lackadaisical play at home.
Marion had 30 points and 14 rebounds, and Johnson and Nash accounted for all of Phoenix’s points during a fourth-quarter run that carried the Suns to a 123-114 victory over the revenge-minded Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
“I was just really taking it upon myself,” said Johnson, who scored eight points in the 13-2 burst that lifted the Suns to a 115-109 lead with 2:34 left. “It wasn’t, like, a set play or anything. I was just getting the ball and trying to make plays.”
The Suns snapped a Denver winning streak for the second time this month. The Nuggets had won eight straight when Phoenix beat them 106-101 in Denver on March 13, and they won their next six before visiting Phoenix.
Nash had 23 points and 12 assists, helping offset the absence of fellow All-Star Amare Stoudemire, who missed his first game this season to rest a swollen left ankle that began troubling him during Phoenix’s win in Orlando on Saturday night.
“Most of the stuff he gets I was getting, like transition,” Marion said. “Tonight I got the chance to run the floor and took advantage of it.”
Carmelo Anthony, who had only nine points against the Suns two weeks ago, led the Nuggets with 22. Andre Miller had 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Marcus Camby had 14 points and nine rebounds. Reserve Wesley Person had 14 points, and Earl Boykins had 11 points and seven assists off the bench.
Boykins made a 3-pointer for a 91-89 lead with 10:48 left—only Denver’s second since the first quarter—and the Nuggets went up 107-102 on a layup by Boykins with 5:45 to go.
But Johnson had a 17-footer, a 3-pointer and a three-point play, and Nash made two jumpers and a free throw over the next 3:11.
“We were trying to figure out how to beat Phoenix, who has the best record in the NBA,” coach George Karl said. “We did a good job for three quarters, and then Johnson and Nash were perfect there for about four minutes.”
Anthony made a free throw to get within five points, but the win was sealed when the Nuggets were called for a defensive technical foul with 42.3 seconds left, and Karl was assessed another and ejected for protesting.
Nash made both free throws, and Richardson drove from the wing for a dunk seconds later.
“We just have to fight back and make sure we don’t lose two in a row,” Person said. “Coach is a competitor. He’s fiery like that.”
Johnson’s tip-in gave Phoenix a 22-21 lead with 1:02 left in the first quarter, and the Suns led from then until the third.
But Denver kept stepping up. Bryon Russell had two 3-pointers and a runner in 2 1/2 minutes, Boykins made four free throws in 29 seconds, and Miller scored five points in 52 seconds. Miller tied it at 85 and 87 with successive reverse layups, and Nene sent the Nuggets to an 88-87 lead with a free throw with 23 seconds left, leaving time for Johnson to make two free throws and get Phoenix the lead 89-88 after three.
The Suns led by 51-41 in the second quarter before the Nuggets rallied to get within one point at halftime.
“We should have gone into halftime 10 points ahead,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We kind of had a mental breakdown.”
Karl’s record with Denver dipped to 21-6. … Camby returned after missing two games with a sprained ankle to start at center, but Kenyon Martin, a starter, missed the game with a sore chest. … The Suns, who have an NBA-best 29-7 road record, are just 8-7 in their last 15 home games and 24-9 overall. … Marion has 10 straight double-doubles, tying the second-best streak of his career (2000-01), and Nash (11) has the NBA’s longest active double-doubles streak. … Denver’s Greg Buckner and Eduardo Najera scored 10 points each.