An ugly game unfolded in Philadelphia this afternoon between the 76ers and the Denver Nuggets. The sloppy affair was filled with turnovers, missed free throws and lackadaisical defense. In the end though the Nuggets would find themselves victorious 108-105. Had Denver not been able to rely on veterans such as Danilo Gallinari, Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller this could have been another ugly loss for the team. The vets stepped up big in the waning moments of the game and the 76ers fell into the all too familiar trap of blowing a lead late and racking up another loss.
The first quarter was when Denver had it best execution, despite once again missing starting shooting guard Gary Harris who is still recovering from a concussion. Denver was being aggressive and getting to the basket to start out and once they got those shots to start falling their mid range jumpers and three point shots also started to fall. They were also aided by some very sloppy play on the 76ers part who continuously turned the ball over. This was fortunate for Denver because one of their biggest struggles this season, defending the three point line, was rearing its ugly head early. This would keep the 76ers in the game. J.J. Hickson got the minutes today in lieu of Nikola Jokic and at the end of the first quarter the Nuggets surprised everyone when they started running the offense through Hickson. The nearly gave everyone a heart attack when it was working. However, Hickson was terrible from the free throw line, going three of nine and the 76ers only trailed by four, 29-25, at the end of the first.
Mike Miller checked in to start the second quarter and immediately looked to distribute the ball, especially to Mudiay who had a wide open layup off a back door cut. Kenneth Faried checked in for the first time in the game and Denver continued to force the issue at the hoop. They also unfortunately continued to poorly defend the three pointer. This game could have been a laugher early but the three ball continued to keep Philadelphia in it. As the quarter went on Denver started getting into their bad habits on offense with plenty of standing around and contested jumpshots. Mudiay was especially bad. He flat out could not hold onto the ball and gave up turnover after turnover. When he wasn't turning it over he was doing his classic unnecessary fall away leg kick jump shot that might graze the rim at best. Without a doubt it was his worst game of the season. Philly was able to grab the lead and close out the quarter leading 59-52. On the bright side, Faried did have an amazing block in the second quarter.
Powerful block by Faried! https://t.co/KEVOgRDfd6— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) December 5, 2015
Mudiay started off the second half with another turnover, but recovered with a nice attack to the rim. Gallo followed that up with drawing fouls when he was getting to the rim as well, which was unfortunately bookended by another Mudiay turnover. Cocah Malone really started going small in the second half and brought Will Barton in for Joffrey Lauvergne. Barton did what he's done all season, provided energy and attacked the basket relentlessly. He was supported by Miller's excellent ball distribution. In fact the offense seemed to ebb and flow with Miller and Barton, when they were in the Nuggets were aggressive and the ball moved fluidly. The defense was another story as Denver continued to allow the 76ers to get open three point shots and they knocked them down with regularity. Poor energy from Denver led to a Philadelphia run and the Nuggets found themselves trailing 77 to 85 at the end of three.
The fourth quarter was sort of a broken record at the beginning of the period. Mudiay turnovers, lazy defense and bad free throw shooting were balanced by Miller running the offense effectively, Gallo scoring to keep Denver in it and Faried working hard on the offensive glass. The Nuggets were able to close the gap to three points but were struggling to get over that hump until Darrell Arthur fouled out and Faried had to come back in the game. Coach Malone went with a lineup of Nelson, Barton, Randy Foye, Gallo and Faried to close out the game and that lineup came up clutch. The contrast was evident between the Nuggets vets and the 76ers youth as Philly was plagued by poor possessions while Denver started converting, including a huge step back jumper from Nelson to tie the game
Denver closed it out by finally deciding to start playing defense, with Barton giving some impressive ball pressure to force a turnover in the final minute. Faried beasted on the glass to keep Philly from getting any second chance opportunities and Nelson was able to find Gallo for an easy dunk. Foye iced it away with some free throws and the rest was history.
Key match up: Joffrey Lauvergne vs Nerlens Noel
This one ended up getting little traction as Coach Malone really went small for the majority of the game and Lauvergne ended up logging just nine minutes. Noel was able to get 14 points but for someone as tall as he is and with the Nuggets usually fielding a center who was 6'10" or shorter, Noel wasn't really a dominant force on the glass nor was he an intimidating factor on defense. Still, I like Noel a lot and he flashed some very nice footwork in the post to go with a jump hook he hit with regularity. For whatever reason he hasn't been the defensive stalwart this season that he was last but there is no doubt that he's got a bright future in the NBA.
Key thing to watch for: Consistency
There was little in the way of consistency for either team. Once again the Nuggets didn't come close to playing a full 48 minutes with their second quarter being particularly egregious. Fortunately, they opened strong and finished strong and that was enough to get the W.
The early bird gets the worm.
Energy was also wildly inconsistent and for the most part was pretty poor, especially on defense. Mudiay in particular looked like he was affected negatively by the early start as he had several mental lapses that led to turnovers. Against any other team in the NBA (save for maybe the Lakers) Denver would have lost this game and against any playoff caliber team they likely would have got blown out. You play who's on the schedule though and so the inconsistencies and poor energy ended up not biting the Nuggets today.
Prediction: Well it wasn't going away like I had hoped but Denver does get the win, which is good because had they lost I'd likely have been tarred and feathered in front of the Pepsi Center.
Box score via ESPN.com