An old-school scorefest broke out between two former ABA teams as the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets combined for 255 points in a contest eventually won by the Nuggets 129-126. Both teams set season-highs in points, and in aggravation for their defensive-minded head coaches. Danilo Gallinari fouled out late in the fourth quarter while Paul George had his final 3-point shot blocked by Emmanuel Mudiay as the visiting team came up short. The Nuggets pulled a reversal of fheir Heat loss, trailing in this game at halftime by 12 but stealing victory from the jaws of defeat this time.
The rookie Myles Turner led the Pacers with 25. Monta Ellis was practically unguardable with 24 of his own, and Paul George chipped in 19 as the Pacers shot 58.5 percent for the game but could not overcome Denver's 42-33 rebounding advantage (including 17 offensive boards) or the 45 point fourth quarter logged by the Nuggets. Gallinari led Denver with 23 points, Will Barton had 21, Gary Harris logged a nice 20 point effort and Nikola Jokic had 18 in 24 minutes - but that figure cannot explain the job Jokic did in keeping the Nuggets in the game in the first half before Barton had warmed up.
They say success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. In this game there would have been plenty of blame to go around if the Nuggets had failed to win it, but with the victory in hand perhaps some of that success can be spread around just as easily, so let's talk about those fathers. Gallinari's relentless assault on the basket netted him a perfect 10-for-10 mark from the line despite the constant foul trouble he found himself in. Fouling out with three and a half minutes to go could have spelled disaster for the Nuggets, but the rest of the players kept their cool and kept fighting. Jokic's cool decisions and quick hands netted him several assists and at least as many steals in the first half, and his scoring was crucial when the Pacers bench was heating up. They had two rookies get career highs in this game (Turner and Joe Young) and someone had to keep pace. Harris, Barton and Randy Foye all threw in crucial threes down the stretch as they lit up Indiana's defense, and Will almost had the highlight of the night with this incredible 360 layup...
Except there was Mudiay, who blew 6 free throws in a row but slammed home a couple of important dunks, including this one below, and had the key block on an All-Star to finish the game. Mudiay would have been the goat with those misses and his 7 turnovers, but instead wound up the hero. Congratulations young fella.
Three Thoughts Revisited:
Whose star shows up? Let's be fair: everybody showed up on offense, pretty much, and not a lot of defense was shown at all. Gallinari got his 20+ and Paul George got 19, so they did essentially cancel one another out. Paul George spent a lot of time getting the rest of his team involved in the game and they were laying waste to Denver's defense for most of the contest, but in the end Gallinari's squad won it. I thought it would be a draw before the game, and I don't feel any diifferently after seeing it. It was the other players who turned the game into a firefight.
Bring the offense. I apparently was not specific enough, because both teams brought bushels of offense and dumped them out all over the court. I felt the Nuggets would need 100+ points to win it, and it took almost 130. The teams scored 19 combined threes and shot 68 free throws between them. It felt like an All-Star game for large swaths of the matchup, which was both good and bad. Jokic particularly was a revelation (to anyone who hasn't been watching him anyway) as his quick hands on defense led to steals that he would then hustle down on the court and feed to others for buckets. He was everywhere - running the offense, scoring on putbacks, hitting a 3 and driving the rim. When he figures out how he needs to play it will be hard to keep him to the 24 minutes he got in this game. If the Nuggets have a fight on their hands for the center position between Nurkic and Jokic, the team can only benefit. Jokic held down his side of that fight admirably tonight.
Mudiay's recovery and growth. There was so much good and bad in this game from Emmanuel. There were plays he made on defense that were crucial, most importantly that reaction block at the end. His driving to the basket for several emphatic scores was great, but his missed free throws almost cost Denver the game. He had a lot of creativity in directing the offense, and several poor decisions that led to turnovers or ill-advised shot attempts. For all that, he still looks like he belongs out there. The moment doesn't seem to big for him even when the game slips out of his control for a few moments. He's going to be special, and every game is a small step toward that future greatness. Tonight was another, with a few nice highlights to offset the teaching moments he's going to get from Michael Malone in film study.
It was a great, frustrating, amazingly entertaining game. Malone's Nuggets made their mistakes but didn't hang their heads or quit even when down 12 at halftime. Denver is now 3-1 at the halfway point of their 8-game homestand and while they still can't seem to play a full game on both sides of the ball, they are at least giving the effort required to make all of the games entertaining. It's a start. Winners all over the place today, Denver sports fans! Enjoy the last play of the game: