In an up-and-down game in which the Denver Nuggets missed the rebounding and energy of Kenneth Faried who sat out with a leg injury, the home team was still able to get the win with a dominating performance from their rookies in the second half. Despite falling behind early and trailing most of the first half, the Nuggets tightened their defense late in the game and won, 104-101. Danilo Gallinari had 30 points and the game-winner, Nikola Jokic finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds, and Emmanuel Mudiay contributed 18 of his own to lead the Nuggets to their fourth win on this eight-game home-stand.
The first quarter opened poorly for the Nuggets, as the Pistons got off to a quick 9-0 lead that started with a dunk by Andre Drummond over Jokic. The one positive in this stretch for the Nuggets was Drummond getting called for two early fouls within the first three minutes of the game, forcing Stan Van Gundy to replace him. The Nuggets clawed their way back by attacking the basket and drawing fouls, led by Gallinari. When the Nuggets tightened their defense and forced turnovers, they were able to tie the game at 15-15 after an 8-0 run. The Pistons would go on a 9-0 run after the Nuggets took a five-point lead, however, with some good play from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ersan Ilyasova. The quarter ended with the Nuggets trailing 32-26, with 14 points from Gallo. The Nuggets bench did not score in the period.
The bigs for Detroit continued to do damage to the Nuggets in the first half as the entire Nuggets team had trouble defending the paint and rebounding the ball. After Anthony Tolliver's second three of the game and two free throws and a hook shot by Marcus Morris (all a part of an 11-0 run for the Pistons), the Nuggets fell behind by 13 points. The first half ended with the Pistons out-rebounding the Nuggets 30-14 and leading with a score of 54-45. Gallinari had 19 points and the Pistons were led in scoring by Caldwell-Pope and Morris, each at 10 points.
The third quarter began with extremely impressive play from the rookies for the Nuggets, as Jokic started draining jumpers (including a three-pointer) and Mudiay attacked the basket and drained a three of his own on his way to nine early points in the quarter to help give the Nuggets the lead at 65-62. The youngsters, including Gary Harris, helped the Nuggets to their biggest lead of the game of 5, but threes from the Pistons prevented the Nuggets from increasing it until the bench came in and extended it to 10 going into the fourth (Sean Kilpatrick hit a three in the last seconds). The Pistons quickly regained the lead afterwards, however, after a 20-5 run. Good defense from the Nuggets allowed them to take it back at 95-94 with a layup from Gallinari and the lead went back and forth from there with clutch plays from both teams, including a three from Reggie Jackson, two free throws by Mudiay and an unbelievable shot by Gallo while falling down to give the Nuggets the lead at 102-101 with less than 24 seconds left in the game. After a missed layup by Jackson, a questionable no-call gave the Pistons the ball back with 13 seconds left after a missed shot from Mudiay but appropriately enough, Jokic blocked Jackson's second attempt at winning the game and the Nuggets came away with a 104-101 win after the Pistons got called for a clear-path foul on Mudiay.
Box Score via espn.com
Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs. Andre Drummond
This matchup, surprisingly enough, was clearly won by the rookie from the very first moments of the game until the very last seconds. Jokic was able to draw a foul on Drummond that forced his coach to take him out, and Drummond was a virtual non-factor the rest of the way. He finished with only 4 points and 8 rebounds, while Jokic had 17 points on 7/11 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 assists 2 steals, and 3 blocks. Jokic showed a multitude of skills in this game, including fade-away shots, impressive defense during certain possessions and calmness in the clutch. His game-winning block on Jackson to secure the win for the Nuggets was huge, and at times it seemed like he couldn't miss on offense. If anybody had any doubt that he is going to be a star for this team, then that doubt was surely erased after this performance.
One of the big reasons why the Nuggets were able to win this game was because of the youngsters. Starting in the third quarter with jumpers from both Jokic and Mudiay, the young players absolutely dominated the Pistons and allowed the Nuggets to have a monstrous third-quarter of 39 points while holding Detroit to only 20. Mudiay showed more of what we saw in the game against Memphis by getting into the lane and hitting mid-range jumpers, attacking the basket, and hitting a three-pointer. Perhaps what was most impressive from the rookie point-guard was the fact that he drained two clutch free throws when the Nuggets really needed it. Besides those rooks, Harris also had a huge game, especially on defense. He finished with 5 steals but also had 13 points on 5/10 shooting. Despite Gallinari leading the team in points and hitting the game-winning shot, it's clear that there's no way this team would have gotten the win if those three did not come to play tonight.
Final thought: The Nuggets future is extremely bright.