Las Vegas - The Nuggets won their two previous Summer League contests in runaway fashion. This being the team's third game in four nights, the focus and energy were not there ... not in the first half anyway. Denver found themselves down 21-16 after one, and down just four entering the fourth quarter. It was going to come down to the final 10 minutes.
In the fourth, the Nuggets got back-to-back-to-back three-pointers from Ian Clark, and two from Erick Green. With the lead erased, it was a back-and-forth battle that came down to the final seconds. With 12 ticks left on the clock, Emmanuel Mudiay found himself with the ball in his hands. He tried to cut down the left side of the court, but ran out of room outside the three point line, in front of the Heat bench. Mudiay drew some contact and was forced out of bounds. Just three seconds remained for the Nuggets.
Summer League head coach Micah Nori asked his players if they wanted to go for the win, they did. The sideline out of bounds play was inbounded by Mudiay, he found Clark coming wide at the top of the key, and Clark stepped into and buried a three with just 1.4 seconds to play. That was all Denver needed to secure their third win in three tries, and they won it 86-83 behind some clutch free throws from Green.
Mudiay: This was a great match-up for the youngster going against the second year player, but experienced, Shabazz Napier. Napier's speed was a bit of an issue for Mudiay. The Heat put him through plenty of screens, and Napier took advantage of his strengths and put up 20 points on 7-14 shooting. Mudiay had 10 points on 4-13 shooting, and tallied 8 assists. It was nice to see Mudiay's competitive fire in a close contest. After Clark's three, Mudiay, who inbounded the ball, met Clark near midcourt for a air-body bump. Mudiay still has a long way to go on the defensive end, but that understanding of how to play pick-and-rolls and such will come with the coaching that Mike Malone and his staff will bring. The Heat also tried to get the ball out of his hands a few times by using a full court press, and trapping Mudiay. Teams already know that he's trouble with the ball, and they tried to get it out of his hands a lot in the first half.
Joffrey Lauvergne: We can call him King Joffrey just for his stature - he looks like he was chiseled out of marble. Joffrey used his size well in this one. Mudiay found him for a ferocious alley-oop in the games opening minutes. He had another big dunk off a Mudiay drop pass, and was a force for the Nuggets inside. He had 11 points and 9 rebounds on the night. Joffrey is a power player that is starting to understand how to use his body to his advantage. He had a nice drive down the left side of the court, and finished with a layup near the rim. I liked seeing Joffrey try to bull his way around, especially with the bull Joshua Smith on the floor.
Ian Clark: He poured in 19 points on 7-14 shooting, including 5-8 from deep. I didn't like how Clark shot the ball in the Nuggets' first game, but he shut me up the last two contests. His spacing was key, and it was also something the team has worked on.
"Our spacing, the way the coaches have us in certain spots, it helps [Mudiay] get in those gaps and find shooters open on the pick-and-roll," said Clark. "Shooting the ball is my specialty."
I'm still not sold that Clark makes the team, but his performances with the Nuggets have certainly helped his cause with Denver and with other clubs, too.
Erick Green: He's a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body. When Mudiay was off the floor, Green ran the show, and being a scorer - he looked to score. The Nuggets offense worked best with both Green and Clark sharing the floor, and playing off the ball, with Mudiay. Green had 11 points on 4-8 shooting, but was credited with just one three pointer (thought he hit two back-to-back...). His confidence shooting the ball has never looked better at the NBA level. His work on the defensive end still needs some improvement, and that improvement may be the difference between him making this team or the team going in a different direction - with perhaps Clark.
Nikola Jokic: He found himself the odd man out of Denver's small-ball lineups, during key stretches. He was tasked with guarding quick and athletic Heat bigs, and then got to deal with the mountain that is Joshua Smith. Jokic again was bullied a bit in the paint on rebounds. He came away with 3 rebounds in his 20 minutes of action. Jokic's offense was pretty good, he was 3-4 for 8 points and had a beautiful high-elbow pass to Mudiay for a nice bucket, as Harrison Wind of BSNDenver captured here:
Here's that set Denver ran so well with Jokic at the elbow hitting a cutting Emmanuel Mudiay. #Nuggets pic.twitter.com/JUFDzjlA6W— Harrison Wind (@NBAWind) July 14, 2015
Gary Harris: It looked like a fun match-up with him going up against Justise Winslow, but Winslow missed much of the first half with what looked like a sore right knee or something. He was on the bench with a heating pad or ice pad, but came back out in the second half. Winslow tried to post up Harris on two occasions that I noticed, and Gary did a great job not allow the wider Winslow to back him down or move him. Harris continued to impress on defense. He fought through screens, chased his man all over the floor, and got his hands on the ball a bunch of times, even though he was credited with just 2 steals. Harris' 12 points came mainly off drives and he was 4-10 from the floor, but 0-5 from deep. Harris goes into attack mode while the pass is still finding him, and he still isn't trusting his shot.
The Nuggets next game will come in tournament play, no word yet on who that opponent will be or what day that action will take place.