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5 takeaways from Suns season-opening loss to Nuggets

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

The Phoenix Suns played a new hype video that electrified the building.

They came out one by one to a crowd of 16,074 cheering every individual introduction.

Then Cameron Payne grabbed the mic, thanked the fans and reiterated the goal of wanting to bring an NBA title to Phoenix.

So the fans were ready.

The Suns were too as they led by as many as 16 points in the first half, but the Denver Nuggets had an answer in pulling out a 110-98 win to spoil the season opener at Footprint Center Wednesday night.

The Nuggets ended the first half on a 10-1 run in the final 90 seconds of the half to trail by only seven at the break. Then the Suns only scored 40 points in the second half on 35.6% shooting and committed nine turnovers that led to 16 Denver points.

Here are five takeaways from the double-digit loss:

Oct 20, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) shoots a jumper over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) at Footprint Center.

1. Deandre Ayton got a resounding ovation in the pregame intro, hit his first four shots, but wound up with just 15 points and six rebounds.

Consistency and sustainability.

That's what Ayton has to be and what the Suns need him to be, but that was the theme for the team as a whole, particularly on the defensive end. 

Denver got way too many open looks from 3 either in transition or in the halfcourt as they went 17-of-39 from deep and scored 18 fast-break points.

Suns coach Monty Williams talked about how their communication on the pick-and-roll was poor to the point they had to travel too far out to defend the 3.

Oct 20, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) pressures Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

As a result, the Nuggets have five give hits at least two threes with Will Barton, who is still heated about getting swept by Phoenix in the conference semifinals, knocking down four from long range.

Reigning league MVP Nikola Jokic did what he does in getting 27 points and 13 rebounds. Ayton made him take some tough shots like the one in the fourth when Jokic dropped a rainbow out on the baseline, but there was one time he got all the way to the rim off the dribble and beat Ayton down the floor in transition.

Those two things can't happen when Ayton is the better athlete and has proven he can consistently force Jokic to either take 3s or tough twos.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) reacts after a three pointer basket against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York).

 2. Landry Shamet and JaVale McGee carried over their standout preseason play into the opener. Shamet was aggressive in scoring 11 points as he hit all three of his 3-ball attempts while McGee scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds.

The combination ofShamet and Paul has potential in that Paul can find him for catch-and-shoot opportunities and Shamet can create shots for himself and others.

Shamet was able to get buckets despite still being new to the team and the Suns not moving the ball the way they normally do. Phoenix finished with 25 assists, but Williams every time they scored, it felt like heavy lifting, according to Williams.

Four different Suns committed three turnovers in Devin Booker, Paul, Payne and McGee. The first three are the team's primary ballhandlers while McGee has been given the green light to make plays for others. 

When Shamet came out the game in the fourth for Booker, he was encouraging guys to finish the game. Shamet was one of the few guys who seemed locked in all game.

Oct 20, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots a jumper over Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton (5) at Footprint Center.

3. Booker had an off night in going 3-of-15 (2-of-7 from 3) and committing three turnovers.

He even missed a layup in the fourth quarter and got another one swatted away by Aaron Gordon that could've been called goaltending, but Booker didn't have it offensively. 

He only played in one preseason game after sit the first three in ramping up for the season as he missed the first three days of training camp while under NBA's health and safety protocols. Booker tested positive for COVID-19.

So his game rhythm wasn't there, his conditioning isn't there, but Booker thought he got good looks. What concerns Williams is he doesn't want Booker to have to be the hero.

Thinks he has a deep enough team to avoid having to wait on Booker to come through and save the day. 

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York).

4. Monty Williams has said Cam Johnson is a starter in the NBA.

Could he be one for the Suns?

While Jae Crowder went 0-for-5, all 3s, Johnson scored 11 points off the bench on 4-of-10 shooting (3-of-5 from 3). 

Crowder is the more experienced and better all-around player, but Johnson is the purer shooter and can score in more ways than just shooting 3s. To play the four, rebounding is a must and Johnson got just two rebounds in 24 minutes.

Playing the same amount of time, Crowder grabbed eight.  

Johnson seems to play better coming off the bench and the same can be said for Crowder in a starter role. Williams found a way to make it work last season.

The same challenge is there this season. Keep an eye on this early in 2021-22.

Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton (5) cheers after a basket against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Phoenix. The Nuggets won 110-98. (AP Photo/Matt York).

5. Denver came into this one with memories of getting swept.

The 'Suns in 4" chants still stings.

So they played with a purpose.

As Mikal Bridges, they played a "full 48" and the Suns didn't. 

After what the Suns did last season, teams are going to come at them for either payback or to show they're a good team, too, or both.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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