This game had a different feel to it than the first four games, and not in a good way. While the Denver Nuggets have been able to stay in the game in each of the first four matches, this one got ugly fast, almost got kind of good, and then got ugly again right after.
The Nuggets were playing an undefeated home team in the Detroit Pistons tonight and they came out slow to start the first quarter. They let the Pistons get off to a 10-0 lead after a couple quick fouls and turnovers on the offensive end. Andre Drummond and the Pistons came out firing, shooting 6-9 from the field and forcing the Nuggets to take two quick timeouts. Then, it happened. Jamal Murray, at the 5:18 mark, made his first field-goal of the season with a three that made the score 20-7.
It was a disastrous quarter for the road team though, as their shooting was just flat and their defense was not there. The score was 29-12 at the end of the first, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leading the way with 10 points. Gary Harris did check in for the first time this season, however, and hit the team's first free throw of the night (after the quarter was almost over...sigh)
By the start of the second quarter, it was clear that the Nuggets were going to have to dig themselves out of another hole if they wanted to win this game. Wilson Chandler gave his team great minutes off the bench but the Nuggets could not figure it out on defense and missed too many easy shots on offense. Then, they started to show their frustration when Jameer Nelson almost got called for a flagrant by running through Aron Baynes and Michael Malone even getting called for a technical. The starters came back soon after though and showed some great ball movement, including a nice hockey assist from Emmanuel Mudiay to Jusuf Nurkic and then to Nikola Jokic for an easy basket.
Their 6-0 run halted with back-to-back baskets by Jon Leuer, who finished the half with 11 points. Chandler checked back in, though, and continued to keep his team afloat with his second and-one basket. The Nuggets ended the half on an 18-8 run as the score was 51-44. Drummond had 12 rebounds in the half and Chandler finished the half with 15 points for the Nuggets.
The third quarter showed the Nuggets turning the ball over and Drummond getting some easy baskets inside. Chandler, the savior for the team, ended a 9-0 run by the Pistons with a jumper. Before the team could make too much of a run, though, Nurkic got called for a flagrant on Drummond. The Nuggets struggled to get anything from their guards and trailed going into the final quarter 77-67. The Nuggets' fourth quarter struggles continued as the Pistons' lead inflated to 20 points and the Nuggets did not even score a basket until one by Chandler four minutes in. A 17-2 run pretty much put the game out of reach, as it was all Detroit the rest of the way and the Nuggets suffered their first blowout of the season, 103-86. Chandler had a game-high 21 points for the losing team.
Three Things to Keep and Eye On
Jamal Murray field-goal watch
We did not have to hold our breath very long. Murray broke his bad streak early on with, fittingly enough, a three pointer. He continued to show rust after that, as he missed more shots and had 4 of the team's turnovers. He then hit a stride for the first time in his career when he made a nice drive to the basket, hit a mid-range jump shot and then another layup in the closing seconds of the game. I don't know if I would call this his coming-out party, but he definitely got the monkey off his back by seeing the basket go in a few times and scoring a career-high 9 points. It could be just what he needs to feel comfortable in the offense from now on. The Nuggets definitely need good play from him in the backcourt with Will Barton hurt, Harris coming off an injury and Mudiay struggling from the field. The backcourt was definitely a huge weakness for the team tonight but Murray gave us something to feel optimistic about.
Will the Pistons' best player go off?
The Nuggets did not allow an opposing player to score at least 30 tonight, but they did let 6 Pistons get into double figures in scoring. After the Nuggets got off to such a poor start and the Pistons came out firing from the field, the tone for the game was set. The Pistons played with confidence and the Nuggets played frustrated for most of the game. Drummond, who arguably is the Pistons' best player, definitely had an impact with 20 rebounds and 19 points. He outplayed the Nuggets' bigs inside for the most part. Still, a lot of Pistons hurt the Nuggets tonight, inluding Leuer and Marcus Morris who each scored 15 points. They did hold their leading scorer, Tobias Harris, to only 9 points however. But besides Chandler, none of the other Nuggets were able to find a rhythm offensively and the Pistons just looked much too comfortable on the offensive end.
Denver's fourth quarter struggles
This was a fourth quarter the Nuggets definitely could not afford to lose. They did though, being outscored 26 to 19. The turnovers got ridiculous for a while, as players were traveling, losing the ball, and just not executing well on offense at all. They played poor defense, letting Stanley Johnson to catch fire and finish with 12 points. The blowout did allow us to see more of Juancho Hernangomez and get our first look at Malik Beasley. Mike Miller even checked in! The Nuggets played poorly throughout the game, only having brief flashes of good play mostly coming from Chandler. The rest of the team really struggled to score and the defensive intensity never picked up for very long. This was the first of this kind of game this season, and it was not fun to watch. At least there's another one tomorrow and a chance for the Nuggets to wash the bad taste out of their mouths.
Boxscore via espn.com