PHOENIX – Twelve games remain, but there came a time in Monday night’s third quarter that the Suns’ season seemed almost over.
The Suns, who trail the Dallas Mavericks by three games for the final Western Conference playoff spot, had blown a 14-point lead and fallen behind Denver by 11, getting further frustrated with Carmelo Anthony’s parade to the free-throw line.
But the Suns rallied to an early fourth-quarter lead and took Denver’s hits, literally, before clinching a 118-115 win on, of all things, Steve Nash’s defense.
After two Shaquille O’Neal free throws tied the score and Grant Hill put the Suns ahead on a jumper, Denver’s Chauncey Billups charged into Nash and missed a running jumper on two chances to tie the score in the final minute.
“We knew what was on the line,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “In order for us to keep a pulse, we were going to have to find a way to win the game. We really dug down.”
Hill, who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, converted a free throw with 6.2 seconds to go, leaving the lead tenuously at 116-113, but Anthony missed a 3-pointer to tie at the buzzer. Anthony scored 29 points but shot only 8 of 20 from the field.
“We’ve had games where we played well, and we’ve had stretches on that last road trip where a team makes a run and we all of a sudden are flat and we don’t respond,” Hill said. “That’s the difference. Tonight we responded. We fought. Maybe guys understood the sense of urgency.”
The Suns led 49-35 despite committing 11 turnovers in the game’s first 17 minutes.
Their inability to defend and close halves surfaced again. The Nuggets scored on 14 of their final 16 first-half possessions to cut the Suns’ halftime lead to 63-60.
In the second half, Denver kept scoring against a man and zone defenses and led by 11 four times. Perhaps feeling desperation, the Suns dug in to hold Denver to two points in the third quarter’s final three minutes, but sloppy play left them in a 92-88 hole. Phoenix had been 0-9 at home when trailing entering the fourth.
A spunky crew of Jason Richardson, Barnes, Goran Dragic, Alando Tucker and Louis Amundson rallied to an early fourth-quarter lead with a Dragic 3-pointer and a Tucker driving 3-point play.
Amundson and Nene Hilario tussled up and down the floor until Nene hooked Amundson’s face and knocked him to the floor. Nene was ejected on a flagrant foul 2 with 7:25 to go.
“I’m making some enemies around the league,” Amundson said. “It’s just the way I play. I play hard, and I play physical, and I don’t back down from anybody. A lot of these tough guys don’t like it when players get physical back with them. I’m not going to back down to anybody. That frustrates them.”
Hawks 109, Timberwolves 97: At Atlanta, Flip Murray scored a season-best 30 points, and Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson each added 20 as the Atlanta Hawks won their season-high eighth straight home game.
It was Atlanta’s eighth win in nine games and the Hawks are 28-7 at Philips Arena. It was the fifth straight loss for the Timberwolves.
The home streak is the longest for Atlanta since Nov. 12, 1996-Feb. 12, 1997, when the Hawks won 20 in row.
Celtics 90, Clippers 77: At Boston, Ray Allen scored 20 points and the Boston Celtics, sparked by an alley-oop dunk from Kevin Garnett, pulled away against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Rajon Rondo added 14 points and seven assists, while Kendrick Perkins scored 12 points and had 13 rebounds for Boston (54-18).
Garnett played 18 minutes, hitting all five field-goal attempts while scoring 12 points. He added two rebounds and two assists in his third game back since missing 13 with a sprained right knee.
Magic 106, Knicks 102: At New York, Dwight Howard had 29 points and 14 rebounds, Hedo Turkoglu led a big fourth-quarter rally, and the Orlando Magic tuned up for a showdown with Boston by beating the Knicks.
Turkoglu scored 12 of his 16 points in the final period for the Magic, who lowered their magic number to one to clinch their second straight Southeast Division title. That could come Wednesday, when they host the Celtics in a game where second place in the Eastern Conference will be at stake.
Heat 94, Grizzlies 82: At Miami, Dwyane Wade scored 27 points to top his own Miami single-season record, plus added eight assists as the Heat easily beat the Memphis Grizzlies.
Wade now has 2,064 points this season, 24 more than his previous best, set in the 2005-06 championship season. He got the record on a layup 2 minutes into the game, part of an 11-0 start that got Miami rolling.
Michael Beasley had 17 points and nine rebounds, Udonis Haslem scored 11 points and Jamaal Magloire finished with 10 points and a season-high 12 rebounds for Miami.
Bulls 101, Wizards 99: At Washington, Ben Gordon scored seven of his 21 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, and the Chicago Bulls nearly stumbled again in their mediocre march toward the playoffs Monday night before hanging on for a victory over the Washington Wizards.
The Bulls had an 11-point lead whittled to one over the final 6 minutes. Washington’s Nick Young made the score 100-99 with a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds play, but Gordon made one of two free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining. After Gordon missed the second attempt, Antawn Jamison missed a desperation 40-foot shot at the buzzer.
76ers 104, Trail Blazers 103, OT: At Portland, Ore., Andre Miller had 27 points and 10 rebounds and Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala scored 25 points each as the Philadelphia 76ers rallied in overtime to beat the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Sixers (36-33) scored eight consecutive points in overtime, including a rebound basket by Miller with 1:55 left to give Philadelphia a 104-103 lead.
Young hit 10 of 15 shots and scored 17 during the second half.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.