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Recap: Nuggets outlast the Pelicans in a 107-102 victory

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The complete onslaught by Anthony Davis provided a scare, but the Nuggets held on with a solid group effort led by Jusuf Nurkic.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets played their first game of the season at Smoothie King center in New Orleans against the Pelicans and Anthony Davis. Davis did not disappoint either, putting up a MONSTER stat line of 50 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 7 steals, and 4 blocks. It was a good thing most of the other Pelicans struggled though, as the Nuggets edged out a 107-100 victory.

Jusuf Nurkic started the game by winning the first tip, and for my second recap in a row, there were clock issues to begin the game. Then, he was fouled by Omer Asik and made one of two free throws. After than, E’Twaun Moore made a quick basket, and the two teams proceeded to struggle to generate offense. Mudiay began the game with two turnovers as well. Gallo showed his usual range, drilling the field field goal of the season on a hand off with Jokic.

The Jurkic combo continued to show offensive smarts, getting some easy baskets inside, including a quick post up shot by Jokic on Anthony Davis. He and Davis went back and forth a bit during the middle of the quarter, but it was Davis coming out on top with mostly jump shots from the perimeter. The Nuggets countered by going with Wilson Chandler at power forward to guard Davis, playing Gallo and Chandler at the same time. The pace of the game picked up a bit, and Michael Malone chose to sub out Jokic for Kenneth Faried.

Jamal Murray checked in at the end of the first quarter for his first NBA minutes. He didn’t have much of an impact because he didn’t touch the ball for awhile, but in his stead, Chandler continued to stay aggressive, scoring some hard fought points while defending Davis on the other end. Nobody really defended Davis particularly well, who finished with 16 points to end the quarter, while the Nuggets lead the Pelicans 30-24.

Jameer Nelson opened up as the hottest man on the floor, quickly reaching nine points in the quarter.

Much of the quarter was used to feed Nurkic in the post, and he responded well. He dunked off of a Jameer Nelson pocket pass and went 1/2 in the post, being a beast on inside and making it easy to find him. With contributions from Gallo on the offensive end and defensive end, the Nuggets kept their lead. There were multiple possessions in which Gallo matched up with Davis and kept him from scoring easily. The game may have sped up, but it also became more sloppy, with turnovers and bad shots hurting both teams. To wrap up the quarter, Juancho Hernangomez checked in for his first NBA action, but very little occurred of note. Davis brought his tally up to 28 points, but Denver maintained its lead over New Orleans 60-48 going into the half.

Some statistics of note: Nurkic put up 15 points on 6/9 shooting, Gallo had 10 points on five shots, and while Mudiay maintained some solid flashes, including six rebounds, he had three turnovers and shot 2/7 from the field.

And to begin the third quarter:

Putting Gallo on Davis appeared to be a smart move, but the Pelicans found other ways to get five points up quickly, causing Michael Malone to call timeout.

The Nuggets offense just couldn’t get going to start the quarter. Jokic posted his fourth turnover, and it took two baskets in the paint by Nurkic to get the team on track. Mixed in with some bad looks were a nice three pointer by Gallo on the wing and a beautiful feed by Nurkic to Barton from the post. Nurkic continued his great play after a timeout, blocking Omer Asik cleanly and dominating the glass. He finished his stint in the third quarter with 23 points (a new career high) and nine rebounds.

As soon as Nurkic came out though, the Pelicans went on the attack. Poor offensive possessions and finishing on one end led to open shots on the other. Davis continued his offensive onslaught, while cracks began forming in the Nuggets defense for other players to take advantage. The intensity and speed picked up, including a wonderful block by Faried and a euro step by Barton on the other end. With some heated sequences, the two teams finished the third quarter with the Nuggets up 85-77.

Kenneth Faried opened up the scoring with a nice jump hook in the post, but Malone took a quick timeout after some poor possessions defensively. The team didn’t repay him either, with dumb offensive possessions, travels and fouls alike. Faried turned it around though with a quick dive to the rim and two drawn charges on the other end. His energy kept the Nuggets ahead of the Pelicans for the beginning stretch of the fourth quarter. They even used him to facilitate in the post, dishing to Chandler for an And-1.

The Nuggets went with Nelson, Barton, Gallinari, Chandler, and Faried for a long session in the middle of the fourth, and they helped the team maintain a moderate lead over the Pelicans. Solid plays by Gallo, Chandler, and Faried highlighted the stretch, and while Nelson struggled for the most part, he created a key steal leading to a Chandler dunk.

Mudiay came back into the game after the timeout and struggled, letting Tim Frazier have his way on a couple of possessions. He even picked up his fifth foul, but Malone chose to stick with him. The intensity ratcheted up a bit with three minutes to go and the Nuggets up by six. With a small ball group in the game, the Nuggets couldn’t defend Anthony Davis. He slowly brought the Pelicans closer and closer, while the Nuggets struggled to find a go-to scorer with Nurkic and Jokic on the bench.

Faried came to play though, and he forced Davis to miss a couple of shots. Back and forth the game went, and three free throws by Barton and Mudiay were the difference at 103-100 with 34.6 seconds to go. The Nuggets forced a tough shot by Moore, and Faried had an opportunity to ice the game after being fouled. He missed both free throws though. Mudiay then had an opportunity at the line, and he expanded the lead to five. The game eventually finished with a 107-102 victory. Yay!

Three Takeaways

Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic struggled heavily. Both were turnover-heavy this game, and while they had some flashes, they clearly weren’t ready for tonight. The Pelicans took advantage of both on the offensive and defensive end. Davis clearly outclassed Jokic tonight and then some. Tim Frazier....Tim Frazier took care of Mudiay pretty handily. If the Nuggets want to go anywhere this year, they need those two to make some strides.

Jusuf Nurkic is a beast. Obviously, when given the nickname ‘Bosnian Beast’ Nurkic had to live up to it, and tonight, he proved to be the best player on the floor for Denver. With a career high 23 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block, he looks like a major piece for the Nuggets’ future.

How will the Nuggets close games in the future? With both Jokic and Nurkic off the floor, the Nuggets chose to defend Davis with Kenneth Faried. Davis slowed down scoring wise at the end, but the Nuggets offense came to a screeching halt. With an offensive flow based off of a flow around a post up big man, the Nuggets struggled to generate good looks in the clutch with both bigs off the floor. They came out with the win tonight, but it shouldn’t have been close anyway. What happens when a team hits their perimeter jump shots or doesn’t have to rely so heavily on one guy? Time will tell.