The Denver Nuggets started their extremely tough stretch this week the right way, with a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, 115-98. Despite the fact that the Pelicans played the majority of the game without Anthony Davis, who was forced to sit out with a shoulder injury after only playing 6 minutes in the first quarter, this was a great performance from the Nuggets on all acounts. Danilo Gallinari scored a season-high 32 points, hitting 12/19 from the field including 5 three-pointers, and also brought down 8 rebounds and dished out 8 assists. He didn't do it alone, though, as Gary Harris, Jameer Nelson, Will Barton and Emmanuel Mudiay had great performances to complement Gallinari. The Pelicans had six players in double figures by the end of the game, including a 24-point performance from Ryan Anderson off the bench, but Gallinari's dominant performance in the third quarter and Nelson and Barton's play in the fourth were just too much to overcome for a team playing without their best player.
The Pelicans, who in addition to their other injuries, did not have Omer Asik available at the center position tonight since he was out with the the stomach flu, played Dante Cunningham in his place. The Nuggets played their usual starting lineup of Emmanuel Mudiay, Harris, Kenneth Faried, Gallinari, and J.J. Hickson. Harris was the first player on the board tonight, hitting a three-pointer to immediately put the Nuggets up 3-0. The score went back-and-forth for a little while after that, with the Pelicans doing damage by hitting a couple of jump shots and some easy layups under the basket. Interestingly enough, Cunningham and Jrue Holiday were the only Pelicans on the board at this point, scoring 6 apiece when the score was at 14-12, Nuggets leading. The Nuggets had more of a group effort, with Harris getting into the lane and hitting some layups, Gallinari hitting a three, and Faried doing work under the basket including an and-one and this dunk off an alley-oop from Emmanuel Mudiay.
Mudiay alley oop to Manimal https://t.co/YyuDZzmzOZ— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) November 18, 2015
Pretty soon, the Nuggets were able to extend the lead even more once each team made their first substitutions. The Nuggets had an extremely small lineup to end the quarter, one consisting of Barton, Kostas Papanikolaou, Nelson, Gallinari and Randy Foye. At this point in the second quarter, Gallinari continued to carry the majority of the load on offense, hitting threes and driving to the basket, as Papanikolaou was the only bench player making much of an impression. A Gallinari three-pointer at the end of the first quarter put the Nuggets up 10 points, 31-21, with Gallo scoring 10 points to lead the Nuggets and Harris and Faried also having a great first quarter.
Viewers were informed by Chris Marlowe at the beginning of the second quarter that Davis was in the locker room being evaluated with a shoulder injury, and he would go on to miss the rest of the game. The Nuggets, however, were unable to take advantage of this factor right away, and the second quarter was spent with the Nuggets trying to pull away but unable to every time. The quarter began poorly for them, as Anderson hit a few jump shots and the Nuggets were missing shots on their end, resulting in a reduced lead. Only Papanikolaou was producing off the bench for the Nuggets, scoring the only points in the quarter for the first three minutes. Michael Malone was forced to call a timeout as the lead was now only two points, 33-31. After the timeout, Foye hit a jump shot to extend the lead back to four points, but for every move the Nuggets made, the Pelicans answered back. When Gallinari was subbed back in, he immediately hit a three, but Luke Babbit answered down on the other end with a three of his own. Barton would hit a three later on, and it was answered by a three from Eric Gordon to continue this theme. Nine straight points from Gordon at one point kept the Pelicans extremely close, but they did not take the lead until the end of the first half with a shot by Babbit to put the score at 53-51. The first half saw Harris, Gallinari and Faried doing damage for the starters, with Barton and Papanikolaou the only real threats off the bench for the Nuggets. Cunningham, Anderson and Gordon, meanwhile, were the biggest contributors for New Orleans.
Check out this great move by Barton in the second quarter that ended in a slam.
SLAM by Barton https://t.co/3ekTvM2Tmk— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) November 18, 2015
The second half saw changes in the starting lineups for both teams, with Davis out the rest of the game with the shoulder injury and Alexis Ajinca starting in his place, while the Nuggets chose to go even smaller by playing Barton in place of Hickson. The Nuggets were able to finally take advantage of Davis' absence, winning the second half by 19 points. Harris began this half the same way he began the first, with a three-pointer to open it up. It would only get worse for the Pelicans from there, though, as Gallinari caught fire soon after. He had an incredible and-one off an alley-oop from Mudiay (probably the play of the season so far) to go along with two three-pointers and a powerful put-back layup following a missed shot by Mudiay to extend the Nuggets' lead to 69-64.
Mudiay to Gallo!!! https://t.co/5dLw4DaXih— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) November 18, 2015
Gallinari would continue to do damage inside, and at one point he had 15 of the last 17 points for the Nuggets. Anderson kept the Pelicans relatively close with some power moves down low, but other Nuggets started catching fire to complement Gallo on the offensive end. With a lineup consisting of Barton, Foye, Harris, Nelson and Gallinari (pretty much four guards and Gallo), the Nuggets extended the lead to eleven, 83-72. Nelson, Harris, and Barton started getting into the action by hitting some jump shots, but it was no mistake who the MVP of the third was. Gallo ended the quarter already notching his season high with 29 points, and the Nuggets led 83-75 after shooting 76.5% in the third.
Without Gallinari in the game to start the fourth quarter, the Nuggets' offense struggled, not scoring until an and-one by Foye two and a half minutes in to put their lead at 86-77. Faried was the lone big for the Nuggets at this point, but was sent back to the bench after Gallinari checked back in (Malone continued to play four guards while alternating the one "big" on the floor). It was at this point in the game when Nelson and Barton took over. Nelson would go on to hit three three-pointers in the quarter, in addition to some two-pointers, and Will Barton contributed with some great plays as well, finishing the game with 17 points off 7/12 shooting. The Nuggets were able to really pull away in the fourth, extending to a double digit lead, and the Pelicans were never able to close the gap. They had their moments, with Anderson taking advantage of the Nuggets' small lineup with some plays and Babbit and Gordon hitting back-to-back three-pointers at one point, but Nelson kept answering with jump shots of his own. Ultimately, the Nuggets proved too much for the Pelicans, and Denver won this won handily by 17 points.
Key Matchup: Anthony Davis vs. Kenneth Faried
This matchup was disappointing to say the least, since Davis only played 6 minutes and did not even score in that stretch before leaving the game with the shoulder injury. Faried had a pretty good game, scoring 11 points with 7 rebounds, but tonight clearly belonged to Gallinari. On a night where Malone elected to oftentimes only play one "big" at a time, (Nikola Jokic did not even get into the game until the very end) he had to choose Gallinari over the others since he was having his best game of the season. Faried also ended the game with 5 fouls, which didn't help his case.
Thing to Watch: Nuggets' offense: Field goal percentage and attacking the basket
The Nuggets had a much better night from the field compared to the last game against the Phoenix Suns. Obviously, Gallinari went off for 32 points, and Nelson and Barton came through when it counted as well. However, Harris also had a really encouraging game from the offensive standpoint, scoring 16 points off 5/8 shooting, and 3/4 from the three-point line. It looks like he's finally coming into his own as a player that can contribute on offense, which is really promising for the Nuggets. Mudiay also had a good game, scoring 12 points and 8 assists. He had some amazing plays, including alley-oop passes to both Mudiay and Faried. The Nuggets as a whole went 52.9% from the field, 50% from the three-point line and scored 115 points...it's safe to say the Nuggets' offense bounced back just fine after the disastrous performance two nights ago.
The Nuggets weren't afraid to attack either, but it's unclear if that was because Davis was out of the game the majority of the time or if it was a point of focus for them. Either way, a much better outing for Denver tonight.
Key Question: Can the injured contribute?
Two of the biggest performers for the Nuggets tonight were on the injury report heading into the game. Nelson and Barton were both probable with an SI joint sprain and a shoulder contusion, but both came through in the fourth quarter to help the Nuggets pull away. Faried, playing with a back injury, had a modest night, but still played a respectable game. Darrell Arthur sat out with the sinus infection.