Josh Smith certainly didn't do his struggling Pistons squad any favors tonight.
In my game preview, I wondered how Kenneth Faried's recent excellent play would be affected by going up against an athletically elite defender in Josh Smith. Smith largely neutralized Faried until the third quarter, when the relentless energy of Faried finally irritated Josh Smith enough to get him thrown out of the game on pair of technical fouls. Aaron Brooks took over from there. The Pistons got 22 points from Greg Monroe and 18 more from Rodney Stuckey, but it wasn't enough against a deep Nuggets team.
Without Ty Lawson, the Nuggets needed Brooks to step up in a big way, and Brooks responded with a career high 17 assists to go along with 27 points on 10-19 shooting. He attacked all night against a gassed Pistons team, dishing and driving against the vulnerable underbelly of an interior defense lacking Andre Drummond and Josh Harrellson. He was aggressive and didn't let up the intensity even when his shot began to cool. I've been a Brooks detractor in the past, but tonight I have to give him credit where it's due - he scored efficiently, he facilitated, and he minimized silly turnovers and reckless play. Brooks deserves a great deal of credit for stepping up to lead the team on short notice. He played 47 long minutes and was effective in every one.
Even though the Nuggets trailed for a good portion of tonight's game, I never got the sense that it was out of reach or an insurmountable deficit for them to make up. They were clearly disconcerted by Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler's absence, but instead of letting it get to them, Brooks and the rest of the team decided to make the most of the shortened rotation. Brooks largely made Brandon Jennings invisible - no easy feat even for a starting point guard.
The energy that we've seen exuding from this team lately was again noticeable, as Timofey Mozgov started off the game with an excellent first quarter. Although his effectiveness was minimized in the final three frames, Mozgov recorded 11 points and 9 rebounds on 4-5 shooting. His size helped the Nuggets establish an intimidation factor inside and set the tone for the remainder of the game. Tonight truly was a team effort though, as the Nuggets had 7 players record 10 or more points (Brooks, Foye, Faried, Arthur, Hickson, Mozgov, Fournier). Randy Foye's 5-12 barrage from downtown with 22 points overall also helped the Nuggets to extend their winning streak.
This could easily have been another "excuse game" for an injury-plagued team to wave the white flag and give up another winnable matchup, but the team buckled down and fought hard. Nuggets fans were rewarded with a great performance and a fourth straight home victory, extending the Pistons road losing streak to 11. It was great to watch the Nuggets turn the tide in the second half, holding the Pistons to just 48 points in the final two frames.
The Nuggets will next play on Friday (6:30 PM MST) at the Dallas Mavericks, where they will look to extend their winning streak to three.