The Nuggets had an opportunity to get a real positive out of their short eastern road trip. With a victory against the Indiana Pacers the Nuggets could claim a winning record on a trip that faced three playoff caliber teams. Throughout the night big performances from Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried, Gary Harris and Danilo Gallinari kept Denver in the game but Monta Ellis and Pacers ultimately proved to be the better team. In the end, the Nuggets terrible last minute execution in overtime let this one get away.
The first quarter opened with a pair of Paul George buckets, a pair of Jordan Hill blocks and Indiana opened a quick 7-2 lead. The Nuggets responded with youth. Mudiay, Jokic and Harris all hit shots in succession. The game was back and forth for a few minutes before a Myles Turner rejection and a turnover allowed the Pacers to take a 20-14 lead.
Coach Malone made a large change after a timeout bringing in Jusuf Nurkic, Darell Arthur and Will Barton and then Jameer Nelson quickly thereafter. The first shift for the bench didn't go well. Monta Ellis got red hot and the Pacers gained a lead quickly. The bench was able to stop the bleeding at that point and finished out the quarter with an awesome sequence that started with a Nurkic block and ended with a Barton throw down and Denver trailed 27-35 at the end of one.
Via An Nguyen (@The_NGUYENNER) of BSN Denver
Barton opened up the second quarter with a breakaway two handed reverse windmill jam, clearly auditioning for the NBA Dunk Contest. Meanwhile, Nurkic was working down low and giving Turner trouble and Indiana was struggling to extend their lead. The Nuggets bench was also in a funk so the lead did not decrease either. Once the starters checked back in Gallo made a point to be aggressive and get to the free throw line. A wide open dunk and then a nice show of quickness in the post got Faried two quick baskets and the Nuggets were within four to force a timeout. Out of the timeout Monta Ellis starting attacking again, this time acting as both a scorer and a distributor. The Pacers closed out the half with a 59-51 lead.
How 'bout another?#TheThrill #Nuggets pic.twitter.com/LkiFx45xjB— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 31, 2016
The third quarter opened up with a break away Faried jam countered with more Ellis in the lane. The Pacers otherwise came out cold to start the second half while the Nuggets front court was scoring to get within three. The Pacers countered with a combination of George and Jordan Hill posting up Faried. Denver answered by pushing the pace and about half way through the third quarter the Nuggets regained the lead 70-69. The teams were going back and forth before Gary Harris (who shot it with confidence all night long) nailed a transition three and Gallo had a break away dun.
Coach Malone stuck it out with the starters in the third quarter and at the end of the third they started getting gassed. Ellis wasn't lacking in energy himself, he sparked a 5-0 run for Indiana. Fortunately for Denver, Jokic was having a great quarter and Gallinari took advantage of a match up with C.J. Miles at the end of the third to keep the lead. Ellis hit a fall away two to beat the buzzer and the Nuggets led after three 83-80.
With so many minutes for the starters in the third, Denver opened the fourth with the full reserve unit. Joe Young helped Indiana's bench effort but both teams' back ups shared a couple ugly possessions marred with turnovers and bricks until Jordan Hill got a wide open dunk off the pick and roll and the Pacers took back the lead 86-85. Indiana squandered the Nuggets poor bench play in the fourth with equally as poor shooting and they still only held a one point lead with only half a quarter remaining.
Malone got the starters back in with the Nuggets trailing by four and Jokic got an and 1 off a nice pick and roll with Emmanuel Mudiay. Then Harris blew past everyone for a dunk and just like that Denver was back in front. George and Gallinari fired back and forth and with under 90 seconds left it was all tied up at 99. Faried was blocked by Turner, Jokic got a steal and Harris missed a three to keep the game tied with 23 seconds left. The Pacers elected to hold for one shot and ran a pick and roll for Ellis. He wound up bricking a three pointer after he got Jokic to switch on to him and it was on to overtime.
The Pacers were 0-4 in overtime coming in to the game, sadly it wouldn't last. Denver opened with a blocked shot and a turnover. George nailed a three, Jordan Hill got a wide open jumper and the Nuggets called a timeout. Credit coach Malone with a nice play call out of the TO as Mudiay found Faried for an alley-oop. Ellis got back to what was working for him and started driving the lane again.
The big game hunter hit a circus shot to keep Denver within striking distance. Mudiay followed with a great drive to get the game within one, 105-106, with 54 seconds left in OT. In an example of terrible execution, still trailing by one the Nuggets allowed Ellis to drive into the lane, fouled him and gave up an and 1 with 20 seconds remaining. He sunk the free throw to put the Pacers up by four. To double down on the terrible end, the Nuggets couldn't even muster a shot in the final twenty and go on to lose, 109-105.
Key Matchup: Danilo Gallinari vs Paul George
Frank Vogel noted George had the unenviable task of trying to defend Gallo without getting into foul trouble, a troublesome proposition when facing the 6'10" Italian and George would struggle with it. Gallo wasn't shooting his best to start the game so he focused on getting to the rim and either getting points or fouls and then got it going from the field later in the game. However, George was taking and making a lot of shots while also working within the Pacers system and dishing out plenty of assists as well. Each player had a solid night offensively and really neither one got the better of the other.
Key match up numero dos: Nikola Jokic vs Myles Turner
The entire Indiana broadcast team was very complimentary of Jokic and with Ian Mahinmi a no go, Turner vs Jokic was fully on. Turner showed his ability to protect the paint and had a big block on Mudiay in the first quarter with an even bigger block on Harris in the 4th. He also had a couple of nice buckets but found difficulty when he was matched up against Jokic's height and Nurkic's strength. Jokic countered Turner's solid first half with a big third quarter, coupling tip-ins with good mid-range shooting and had several big shots in the fourth. Another pretty evenly played match up but Jokic probably got the slight advantage in this one with his scoring.
Ellis and George Hill, particularly Ellis, gave Denver everything they could handle. Ellis was doing exactly what John Wall and Jeff Teague did on this road trip, using his speed to blow by defenders and wreak havoc in the paint. Hill was a perfect compliment to this as he provided the sharp shooting kick outs that were wide open when the defense collapsed on Ellis. Hill also was able to get in the lane and find easy dunks for the Pacers big men. In the end the difference for Indiana was Ellis who had a huge night against the Nuggets as they continue to be absolutely destroyed by quick scoring guards.
Prediction: I nearly got this one on the nose (though I had it lower scoring) and indeed the Pacers proved to be too much.