Center Jusuf Nurkic scored 31 points and Kevin Durant added 30 points and 11 assists on Friday, but the Denver Nuggets held on for a 119-111 victory at Footprint Center.
In their first regular season meeting since the playoffs the previous year, both teams were without key players: Devin Booker and Bradley Beal of Phoenix and Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray of Denver.
However, despite a shootout in the first half and a close fourth quarter in which neither team could break away, 11 players on both teams scored in double figures.
With a 3-pointer from Grayson Allen early in the fourth quarter, the Suns (11-8) overcame a 17-point deficit to tie the game. The biggest gap between the two teams throughout the next eight minutes of play was five points.
The death blow came with 45 seconds left.
The Suns fed Nurkic on the block on Nuggets (14-6) star center Nikola Jokic several times, and the Phoenix center found success against his former teammate in the paint. Their clash came to a head in the third quarter when the Suns fed Nurkic three times, the first resulting in a turnover with a lot of contact that displeased the crowd, and the next two were buckets that had Footprint Center as energetic as it had been all night in a throwback battle.
Nurkic banged into Jokic again in the final minute down 114-111, but the former’s elbow caught Jokic up high, resulting in a Flagrant 1.
The move was described by official Marc Davis as “unnatural.” It was also Nurkic’s sixth foul.
Jokic split the free throws and finished at the rim on the following possession to take a six-point lead and essentially ice the game. The two-time MVP finished with 21 points and 16 assists.