PHOENIX (AP)—As Amare Stoudemire stood at the foul line with 1:42 remaining, chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P” reverberated from the sellout crowd at US Airways Center.
“Only 41 … I could have played a little better,” Stoudemire said, jokingly.
Steve Nash added 36 points as the Suns rallied from a 22-point second-quarter deficit to reach 50 wins for the fourth straight season.
“At halftime, we came together and said, ‘Let’s fight for it,”’ Stoudemire said. “We dug in in the second half.”
Phoenix tied the idle Los Angeles Lakers for first place in the Pacific Division and strengthened its position in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
The comeback matched the third-best in Suns’ history. They also rallied from a 22-point second-period deficit against the Boston Celtics in 1994. The franchise record is 29.
Stoudemire had 16 points in the fourth quarter when the Suns outscored Denver 46-25. This was his franchise-record 11th 40-point game, his second this season. He now has scored 30 or more points in five of his last six games.
“We had a total meltdown,” Iverson said. “They were better in the second half when it mattered.”
The Suns not only shot better and played tight defense in thee second half, they also outrebounded Denver by a 26-6 margin.
“In this league, no lead is safe, especially with a team like the Phoenix Suns,” Anthony said.
The loss dropped the Nuggets into ninth place in the Western Conference, one-half game behind idle Golden State and one game behind the Dallas Mavericks, 93-86 winners over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.
Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni was elated over his team’s comeback.
“I am proud of them just coming out with defense and offense together in the second half,” he said. “It was pretty potent.”
The teams meet again Tuesday night at Denver.
The aggressive Nuggets beat the usually high-octane Suns at their own game in the first half, outrunning, outgunning, outhustling and outshooting Phoenix in building a 70-51 lead.
The key to the Nuggets’ domination came during a 3:51 span bridging the first and second quarters when Denver reeled off a 16-0 run. Seven players scored during that burst, with only Iverson making two baskets.
The Nuggets hit 60.4 percent of their field goal attempts (32-for-53) in the half. The Suns also attempted 53 shots, but made only 17 (32.1 percent); they came into the game leading the NBA in field-goal shooting (49.6 percent).
As the Suns trudged off at halftime, they were roundly booed by the crowd of 18,422.
The boos turned to cheers in the third quarter when the Suns twice cut the Nuggets’ lead to three points before Denver finished the period leading 92-86 on a three-point play by Smith with 24 seconds remaining.
The cheers reached fever pitch in the fourth quarter, especially when the Suns took their first lead since midway through the opening period, 110-108 on a 3-pointer by Nash with 6:18 left. From there, the Suns continued to build their lead with strong offense and suddenly tight defense.
Stoudemire led the comeback with 11 points in the quarter, while Nash and Bell each had 10.
: Suns F Grant Hill missed his second consecutive game and 10th of the season with a strained right groin. Coach Mike D’Antoni said Hill might play Friday. … Five technical fouls were called during the game, one each against Stoudemire, O’Neal, Bell, Suns assistant coach Dan D’Antoni and the Nuggets’ Nene. … Stoudemire extended his franchise record of scoring at least 15 points in a game to 62. … Denver has a relatively favorable schedule after the rematch against Phoenix on Tuesday night; the Nuggets then face three nonplayoff teams—Sacramento, Seattle and the Los Angeles Clippers.