Nash's red-faced halftime pep talk inspired the Suns, who overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to beat the depleted Nuggets 113-108 Monday night, despite the league's MVP sitting out the second half.
"During the first half they roughed us up, knocked us around and we didn't stand up to them. Steve had a talk at halftime and we played with a little bit more oomph in the second half," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They've got some tough guys and we had to stand up to it. We want to play pretty, but pretty wasn't getting it done tonight."
Nash watched from the bench, having aggravated his injured right shoulder in the first half.
"I thought it was best to come out," Nash said. "It hurts when I'm moving it."
The rough-and-tumble Nuggets nearly made up for the absences of stars Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby, with Carmelo Anthony getting his first career triple-double and Nene chipping in a career-high 27 points.
All of it was to no avail thanks to Amare Stoudemire, who scored 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to fend off the injured-but-inspired Nuggets.
"This is what I expected. I thought they would try to rough us up," Stoudemire said. "So we responded. Some teams get physical with us and we get physical right back at them. We can give it back. We run and that's how teams try to slow us down."
Leandro Barbosa added 20 points, including a clutch 3-pointer in the closing minutes.
"They're not much different," without Nash, Nuggets coach George Karl insisted. "(Barbosa) had a great game for them, had a great second half. He hit the big shot. It's a good imitation of Stevie Nash."
Anthony, who had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, pulled the Nuggets to 109-106 with a three-point play with 13 seconds left. But Shawn Marion (19 points) and Raja Bell (18) each sank two free throws after that to seal the win for Phoenix, which had lost two of three after winning 17 straight.
"When you play a great team, it's difficult to have holes," Karl said. "I thought in the second half (Stoudemire) ran by us. We kind of got back in control and then Stoudemire's special talents hurt us. My team played great. They played hard, with a passion and a commitment. Phoenix is just a team that doesn't beat itself."
The Suns did get beat up, though.
Bell played despite a swollen knee. Nash finished with nine points and seven assists in 17 minutes before going out and Marion took four stitches to close a cut above his right eye, courtesy of an elbow by Nene.
"They got physical with us, roughed us up," D'Antoni said. "And we reacted."
And the more they got hit and hammered, the more they responded.
"I was cut, but it didn't matter. It got me fired up. I was more determined," Marion said. "Cuts and getting roughed up is part of our game. We can play that style."
Anthony almost had his triple-double by halftime, tallying 18 points, eight boards and seven assists as the Nuggets took a 60-51 lead into the locker room.
Stoudemire led the comeback, scoring seven points in the Suns' 15-2 run that erased Denver's double-digit lead and put Phoenix ahead 72-69 midway through the third quarter.
"We were hitting shots in the first half," Anthony said. "We cooled down a little bit in the second."
Anthony had two rebounds and three assists in the second half, just enough for the triple-double.
"Now I can say at least I got one," he said.
"I hope that's one of many," Karl said. "Melo is the type of guy that can get a triple-double every night, and if he just continues to trust the pass and let the game play and flow and commit to rebounding, he could do that on a weekly basis, I think."
Anthony aggravated his sprained left wrist, although postgame X-rays were negative. Reggie Evans played despite a sprained right ankle and Steve Blake played with a bandage covering his upper lip, which required 12 stitches after he caught an inadvertent elbow from Ron Artest 48 hours earlier.
"We've just got to figure out ways to win games down the stretch," Anthony said. "I know we're hurt, I know we're bruised up. But we can't use that as an excuse."
The Suns certainly didn't.
- This was a makeup of the Dec. 20 game that was wiped out by a blizzard.
- Iverson said he hopes to return Wednesday night against the Hornets.