Holy shit. Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets starters played pretty well didn’t they?
The Denver Nuggets won against the Dallas Mavericks 117-107. Nikola Jokic posted his best performance as a pro to date, tallying 27 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists, and a huge effect on the game overall in his 38 minutes. Gary Harris set a career high as well with 24 points, while Emmanuel Mudiay played very well. Tonight...tonight was the Jokic show.
The Nuggets began the game with the same starting lineup that worked to near perfection the previous two games: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Nikola Jokic. They also wore the white gold jerseys that worked so well.
The first basket for Denver occurred on a pick and roll from Gallinari to Jokic. Gallo has really improved as a facilitator over the last few games. The Nuggets forced Salah Mejri out of the game early with two fouls, and the overall aggressiveness to the basket was evident because of it. It created openings for shooters on the perimeter, as Gallinari and Mudiay swished three pointers early, and Chandler canned a transition jumper to force Rick Carlisle to use a timeout. The Nuggets led 17-11 after just under five minutes of play.
Good play continued for this group. Chandler found Harris on an open three created by a Mudiay cut, and Jokic threw an inbound pass the length of the court for a Harris layup. The lineup jumped out to a Plus-9 lead before Will Barton entered for Chandler. Nugget killer J.J. Barea immediately came in and tallied seven points, one assist, and drew a Mudiay offensive foul. The lead shrank to just two points before Michael Malone called a timeout. Barea added two more assists, a three point make, and drew a Faried offensive foul (flop). The number of passes made by the Nuggets shrunk with the bench unit in, and they just didn’t appear cohesive at all. At the end of the first quarter, the Nuggets trailed the Mavericks 31-28.
The Faried-Jokic lineup has dominated 1st quarters from the 8-minute mark to the 3 minute mark over last 2 games. Why abandon that?— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) December 20, 2016
Malone came back with Jokic to start the second quarter, while Faried went to the bench. Another curious move. Jameer Nelson and Jamal Murray didn’t do anything to endear themselves in the first quarter, and they combined to give up three three pointers to start the second quarter.
Dallas raining in threes; has made 6/8 so far and leads 41-30 at 10:20 in the second— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) December 20, 2016
This was exactly what Malone was afraid of, and real time, it appears that Gary Harris is in for a long night. Right on cue, Malone reinserts the starters outside of Gallinari. Deron Williams began abusing Mudiay in the pick and roll and in transition. Dallas had forgotten what misses felt like at this point, and it felt like every shot, contested or wide open, was going to fall.
After the TV timeout, the ball movement began to improve. Jokic continued to provide solid minutes on both ends, and while he committed another “Euro” foul, it was just his first of the night. The defensive intensity picked up completely at this point, with Harris turning a steal into a transition bucket. The rest of the team followed suit, as the team began playing below the free throw line. It wasn’t perfect, but the effort by the starters helped. They helped bring the Nuggets back to a 60-58 advantage at halftime.
Jokic had himself a great half, according to infallible sources.
I lied when I said Zach LaVine was my favorite player to watch. It has to be Nikola Jokic still.— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) December 20, 2016
Jokic w/ a double double of 12 and 10 boards— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) December 20, 2016
And 5 assists
Harris also accumulated 16 points on just nine shots, showing how valuable he’s been as a stabilizer in the starting lineup.
The Nuggets began the third quarter by giving up an open three point shot, which Barnes canned, followed by a Matthews And-1. Jokic then went to the post on Mejri for a bucket, helped caused a steal, and assisted a Mudiay three point basket. Mudiay couldn’t guard Williams on the other end though, leading to two straight buckets. Harris fired up another three pointer. Offense was abundant to start the quarter, and Mudiay canned ANOTHER three pointer off the catch.
An underrated aspect of the last three game has been Gallinari’s passing. He’s set up a number of easy looks with this starting lineup, including an easy dump off to Jokic. Harris had another steal, and after missing two free throws, he canned two. The Nuggets began taking control a little, with a number of easy buckets generated in the flow of the offense. Jokic canned a three as well. Harris set a new career high. Mudiay hit ANOTHER three. The starting lineup put on an offensive clinic.
Even as the reserves started filing in, the Nuggets kept the foot on the gas. Matthews got a technical while Gallinari was at the line, giving Gallo three free points instead of two. Unfortunately, the defense looked even more porous than before, giving up two easy layups to Seth Curry. This can be attributed to Nelson, Murray, and Faried playing center. In the end, Denver led through three quarters 95-83.
Jamal Murray opened the third quarter with an open three point make generated by ball movement and player movement. Chandler threw another great pass to Nelson, who canned a three pointer. Chandler looked a little passive tonight, but his distribution was great, especially with Jokic on the bench. While Faried rebounded really well at this point, the Nuggets missed the size of a Jokic or Jusuf Nurkic at the beginning of the quarter, since there were very few shots Faried was able to change. Still, his energy helped the bench survive until the starters finished resting.
Jokic subbed back in for Faried at the 8:57 mark, and both teams settled in on defense a bit. It was clear Denver wanted to get Jokic his triple-double, but the offense bogged down a bit because of it. The Mavericks hung around for a little bit, cutting the lead down to as little as six.
Out of a timeout, Jokic hit a patented midrange jumper on a Mudiay pick and roll, followed by an absolutely incredible post shot. With some great defense, Jokic grabbed his rebound, and threw a three-quarter court pass the length of the floor for his ninth assist.
The Nuggets offense just couldn’t be stopped at the end. Everyone was passing, cutting, and Jokic was the focal point, the lynch pin, of everything. The game ended with a Nuggets win, 117-107.
Key Matchup: Wesley Matthews vs. Gary Harris
Matthews shot 3/11 and incurred a technical foul. Harris posted a career high on just 13 shots. Harris didn’t just win the matchup against Matthews, he dominated him.
Closing thought: this team could be really good.
Yeahhhhh, it’s a three game winning streak at home. yeah, it’s not like the Blazers, Knicks, or the Mavericks especially instill fear in the hearts of opponents, but by golly, I’m gonna enjoy it. The Nuggets look and feel completely different as a team the last three games. The intensity is different, the starters are clicking, and the bench is filling in when needed. After a poor start for the bench, they figured it out in the fourth quarter and helped maintain the lead. It will be interesting to see what happens with Nurkic, who received a DNP-CD tonight, but I’m elated for the team overall. They are heading in the right direction, and making Jokic the focal point has helped turned this team around.