It was hard for me to enjoy the game tonight in the wake of the attacks in Paris. Reports from France list more than 120 dead, in the deadliest attack in the West since September 11. While I love watching basketball, there are some times where sports aren't really that important. A few missed field goals by Emmanuel Mudiay doesn't matter to the victims in Paris. A sweet slam dunk by Will Barton isn't as precious as telling those close to you that you love them.
Joffrey Lauvergne - our thoughts and prayers go out to you, your family, friends, and countrymen.
As for the return of Ty Lawson to the Mile High - didn't have a single field goal on seven attempts, seven assists and one turnover. Mudiay wasn't much better himself, but did have 11 assists to go with three steals and two assists in 33 minutes. The Nuggets defense was inspired by the presence of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, who brought the #NoFlyZone to Pepsi Center. James Harden finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but it wasn't 30 points, and the Nuggets won anyways. In the prediction, I guessed 112-104 Nuggets, and Denver really backed me up there. Thanks guys.
Kenneth Faried scored the first basket of the game off a drive and dish by Gallinari, and the Nuggets had the lead for most of the night from that point on. Montrezl Harrell started for the Rockets, but finished with only 13 minutes after picking up three fouls and Terrence Jones having a good night. Gallinari had some nice plays, with Jokic finding him in the post late for a bucket. It's nice to have a big man that can set up his teammates. Jameer closed out the first quarter with a beautiful dribble-move against Dwight Howard, freezing the shot-blocker to get a wide open look at the rim. The bucket by the vet gave the Nuggets a 30 point quarter, a nice start for Denver.
The second quarter was messy, with both teams turning the ball over and getting whistled for fouls. Randy Foye got leveled on defense, and things became chippy between J.J. Hickson and Howard. Howard elbowed Hickson in the head fighting for a rebound, and Hickson exchanged words with Trevor Ariza after the whistle, earning those two technical fouls. It was nice to see Hickson refusing to back down from the physical play of Howard, who was all shoulders and elbows against Denver's undersized bigs. Without Jameer Nelson, this quarter would have been much worse, but the Nuggets outscored the Rockets to take a 59-51 lead into halftime.
The third quarter started slow for the Nuggets, but Malone went to his instant offense weapon off the bench, Will Barton.
SWEET BARTON MOTHER OF PEARL that was awesome. Other than that, the Rockets slowed down the game, using iso-Harden to grind out possessions and force the Nuggets to score on them in halfcourt offense. It was effective because Emmanuel Mudiay just couldn't get his shot to go down tonight, and that allowed the Rockets to sag off him and rebound misses. Still, the Nuggets didn't fall behind, ending runs before they got out of control and starting runs of their own.
Will Barton, Jameer Nelson, and Randy Foye combined for 48 points off the bench tonight, and they were huge in the fourth quarter. Barton and Nelson had 20 of the team's 25 points in the fourth quarter - such a great game from those reserves. Kenneth Faried grabbed double-digit boards to go with 14 points, his second double-double of the season. Will Barton played out the fourth quarter, finishing with a career-high 26 points. Mudiay finished with 11 assists again, but had nine turnovers in a game where he really looked like a 19-year-old rookie at times. When the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets had their third straight win and a series win over a team that made the Western Conference Finals last season.
Will Barton is such a joy. A sneaky addition to the Arron Afflalo trade last summer, Barton has quickly played his way into the hearts of Nuggets fans. His energy off the bench is captivating, and he plays with so much passion. On a night when his older carbon copy, Corey Brewer, only played 14 minutes and went scoreless, Barton showed off in front of the hometown fans.
The Nuggets won the rebounding battle. The Rockets give up lots of rebounds, and Denver had 12 offensive boards to go with 34 defensive boards. Rebounding is an important skill, especially when teams go small. A growing trend in the league is to play small, but that doesn't work if your wings can't rebound. Faried had four offensive rebounds, with Jameer Nelson and Will Barton combining for 10. A defensive rebound ends a successful defensive possession, and the Nuggets won the game because they limited second-chance buckets. It's hard to defend for 45 seconds, especially for a young team, and defensive rebounds avoid those situations. Underrated part of the game tonight.
Emmanuel Mudiay can struggle, but Michael Malone is going to let him learn. Malone would have been justified in benching Mudiay tonight in the fourth quarter. His shot wasn't falling, he was turning the ball over, he was over-dribbling - it was not good. But those mistakes happened, they're on film, and now they can sit down and learn from them together. The Nuggets still managed to win the game, and the next time, Mudiay will have a better idea of what to do. He can work on tightening his dribble and improving his shot in practice, look for opportunities to attack instead of defer, be aggressive rather than pull back. He's only 19! He's going to be great, but it'll take time. At least Malone is letting him get there while playing rather than watching from the bench.