Suns grab 8th straight home win vs. Nuggets behind Nash's late burst

PHOENIX -- Steve Nash has a reputation as one of the best clutch shooters in the NBA. He added to his credentials Saturday night.

Nash scored eight straight points in the final 3 minutes and the Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets for the eighth straight time at home, 108-101.

Nash's first big basket gave the Suns a 101-98 lead. After Chauncey Billups tied it with a 3-pointer, Nash connected on two 3-pointers, giving Phoenix a 107-101 lead. A free throw by Shaquille O'Neal completed the scoring.

"I've seen him do it so many times," Denver coach George Karl said of Nash. "Nash is Nash. He's special."

Nash was only 2-of-8 from the field before his late spree.

"I don't know if he had that plan [to shoot]," Karl said. "Once he made the first one [of his 3s], I knew the second one was in."

Phoenix coach Terry Porter also has witnessed many of Nash's heroics.

"He's proven he can do it," Porter said. "He did a great job tonight. That was just what we needed. He came up big for us."

Nash downplayed his late efforts.

"I just tried to be aggressive and look for opportunities for us to win the game," Nash said. "I was just fortunate to make some tonight that helped us win."

Nash finished with 16 points and 11 assists. Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 27 points and 10 rebounds -- his 10th game in a row with at least 20 points. O'Neal had 19 points and nine rebounds, Jason Richardson also scored 19, and Grant Hill had 11.

Hill also did a strong job on Carmelo Anthony, holding the Nuggets' leading scorer to 10 points -- 11 below his average.

"Old man Grant did a heck of a job on that young fellow Melo, really making him work for a lot of things tonight and didn't give him anything easy," Porter said.

Stoudemire, who led the Suns in rebounding for the seventh straight game, said, "My thing is I just go out there and play hard. Whenever coach comes to me and says, 'We need you to do this more,' I'm always down to accept the challenge."

The 101 points were the fewest allowed by Phoenix in 12 games. This was their fifth straight victory at home.

"Down the stretch we did a solid job," Stoudemire said. "We got stops and rebounded the ball. That's something we've got to continue to do to close out games."

Reserve JR Smith topped the Nuggets with 23 points.

Nene added 20 points and 15 rebounds for Denver, Billups had 18 points and eight assists, Kenyon Martin scored 13 points, and Linas Kleiza had 10.

The loss dropped the Nuggets to 17-10 and into a tie with idle Portland for first place in the Northwest Division.

The Suns, whose objective was to improve their defense this season, have yielded at least 100 points in 12 consecutive games.

Both teams shot exceptionally well in the first half that was marked by a series of runs and ended tied at 58.

Smith was the most productive player of the half, scoring 18 points, 15 in the second quarter. He hit four of eight 3-pointers and his final field goal of the second period gave the Nuggets their biggest lead, 50-41 with 6:45 to go. But the Suns rallied and went ahead 58-56 on two free throws by Nash with 7.5 seconds remaining. Billups tied it for the fourth time with two foul shots with 3.9 seconds left.

Nene also had a big half for the Nuggets, scoring 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds, four off the offensive glass, one more than the entire Suns team had.

The Suns' largest lead of the half was 10 points, 17-7, as they hit eight of their first nine shots. Denver then went on a 16-2 burst and went ahead 23-19 on Smith's first 3-pointer.

Again the Suns came back and led 29-28 after the first quarter when Stoudemire contributed 11 points. By the half, Stoudemire had 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

Denver made 53.5 percent (23-of-43) of its field-goal attempts in the half, while the Suns hit 51.2 (21-of-41).

The score was tied twice and there were five lead changes in the third quarter before the Suns scored eight consecutive points, including 3-pointers by Hill and Richardson, and took the lead 78-73. A late field goal by Martin and a 3-pointer by Kleiza cut the Suns' advantage to 85-82 by the end of the period.

Game notes
If the Suns maintain their current position atop the league in field goal percentage, it would be the fifth year in a row they would win that title. ... On the other hand, they are the worst in turnovers per game and 28th in offensive rebounding. ... Denver, which allowed an average of 107 points per game last season, is holding opponents under 100 this year and allowing them to shoot less than 43 percent, third best in the league, just behind Boston and Cleveland in that category. ... Nuggets center Steven Hunter has yet to play this season, following right knee surgery. ... The Suns play only one game in the next eight days, at home against San Antonio on Christmas Day.