The Bosnian Beast is here to stay.
After yet another powerful performance against one of the best centers in the league in Demarcus Cousins, it's difficult to overstate just how impressively Jusuf Nurkic has played. At just 20 years old, he's already assumed the mantle of a starter in the league and in almost every game he's participated in has played well beyond his experience level. Against Cousins' bruising, elbow-and-acting filled game, Nurkic held his own. He fouled out in garbage time, but ended up with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal, 3 blocks, and just 1 turnover in his 22 minutes of play. His +24 was just behind Kenneth Faried's team-leading +26. This kid was the absolute steal of the draft, and
could should be the team's center for years to come.
You could tell that the Nuggets were playing with energy tonight from the opening tip - Faried nearly ran down the tipped jump ball against Darren Collison for a dunk but lost the ball out of bounds. From that point forward, the team's fire was palpable, and it was easy to see that this squad didn't want to blow another game to the same team that's already punked them twice.
Despite a disastrous second quarter where the Nuggets gave up 33 points and surrendered a 6 point lead at halftime, Shaw's halftime speech apparently fired up the team. The Nuggets came out with set jaws and steely resolve and went on a game-ending 30-9 run behind a suffocating defensive effort. That defensive effort was largely predicated on letting Cousins take dumb, Josh Smith-like long jumper after long jumper, but it worked, and the wheels began to fall off in the Sleep Train Arena. With the Nuggets leading 90-75 after the third frame, the Kings appeared completely demoralized at surrendering their 6 point halftime lead, and never got close in the fourth quarter.
Energy, effort, defensive intensity, steals, blocks, high-flying dunks - the Nuggets gave their fans everything they could want this game. With the imminent return of Danilo Gallinari, Randy Foye, and JaVale McGee, we might just be witnessing the start of something big.
Nuggets of Gold
All of the starters tonight played exceedingly well, despite a late scratch of Wilson Chandler from the starting lineup due to a "knee strain".
- Ty Lawson seems to have regained the confidence in his shot and continues to pile up the assists. While he'll once again lose out to Chris Paul and Stephen Curry for an All-Star spot, he's playing the best basketball of his life right now and seems to be thriving in Shaw's system.
- Arron Afflalo is an absolute cuisinart on offense. He's slicing, dicing and julienne-peppering defenses lately, scoring with an array of turnarounds, fadeaways and up-and-unders. His game is so much more refined now after his time in Orlando - and it's an absolute pleasure to watch.
- Kenneth Faried's 12 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and huge smile have served to remind us how effective the Manimal can be when he's on his game. I still believe that Faried's game is not done maturing, and he'll continue to get better on both ends of the floor.
- Darrell Arthur played a quiet game (11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), but didn't commit a single turnover or foul in his 28 minutes and shot the ball efficiently. It was an admirable fill-in for Wilson Chandler, and I'm hoping that the Nuggets can continue to rely on his steady play going forward.
- I already gushed about him in the intro, but JUSUF NURKIC!!! is an absolute revelation. After years of watching the Nuggets suffer without a quality big man in the post, the team seems to have finally found a huge, fearless and skilled center to compete with the Marc Gasols, Dwight Howards and Demarcus Cousins of the league. I can't wait to see what else he has in store.
Veins of Silver
The bench played decently well tonight, and was only somewhat quiet due to the extremely effective play of the starters.
- Nate Robinson actually managed to spell Ty for a while tonight. It was good to see him shoot the ball with confidence but not overconfidence, and he managed to cut out the silly turnovers (1) while continuing to set up the second unit (7 assists). I'd still like to see the Nuggets pursue another PG, but I can live with Robinson and Erick Green for the rest of this season.
- Alonzo Gee is the best defender on the team and may be one of the best in the league. I liken his game to that of a Rocky Mountain Tony Allen, with suffocating man defense, active hands in the passing lane, and a penchant for thunderous tomahawk dunks. He's like a smarter Corey Brewer that doesn't take dumb shots!
- I didn't completely hate J.J. Hickson's play tonight, which is about the highest praise I can think of for him. He scored 16 points on 8-11 shooting, but gave up as much as he got on the defensive end in the same old swan song. Once again, despite a solid-looking line, J.J.'s stats don't show how truly putrid he was with numerous defensive lapses, missed boxouts and his general ineptitude on the court. Even though he was tasked with an impossible assignment in guarding Cousins in the post due to early foul trouble on Nurkic, his matador defense is just ugly to watch.
No lumps of coal tonight. Everyone played well.
Quote of the Night
"He's not afraid of nobody man. He's a rookie that's ready to go to war and I'm glad I'm playing with him. I was talking to him just now, he said 'I didn't have six fouls, I had maybe one!'; he's crazy man."
- Ty Lawson, on Jusuf Nurkic
Can the Nuggets make it five straight? We won't find out until next Wednesday (!!!) at the Dallas Mavericks, where the Nuggets will take on Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.