The Detroit Pistons were sick...literally. Reggie Jackson and Ersan Ilyasova were unable to play in tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets due to illness and after the game started the whole team came down with a case of young-gun-itis. The Nuggets once again found excellent performances from their first and second year players. Emmanuel Mudiay and Jusuf Nurkic had strong outings and six Nuggets scored in double figures to earn the win in Detroit.
The first quarter opened with some cold shooting for Denver. They went 1-6 to start which led to a 9-2 Pistons lead. It would be short-lived for Detroit when the Nuggets bounced back with a 9-0 run of their own. As the benches checked in the teams traded baskets (or more accurately, missed baskets) and after blowing a wide open layup, Danilo Gallinari would close the quarter with a pair of free throws and Denver trailed 20-22.
Darrun Hilliard and Will Barton traded threes and Aron Baynes and Nurkic traded post moves to start the second quarter. Denver as a whole had the three point shot working for them which made up for some otherwise pretty lousy play to open the quarter. That good shooting didn't hold out and Marcus Morris led the Pistons on a 11-2 run over three timeouts from Michael Malone. The third appeared to finally have worked with Denver getting a mini 5-0 run on the back of Gallo but the Pistons came right back with Andre Drummond in the post who had the double double practically wrapped up by halftime. Despite the struggle, Mudiay took over for about a two minute spurt to close the half and Denver only trailed 52-53.
The Nuggets came out a little flat to open the third quarter but an excellent sequence started by a Gary Harris steal ended with a Faried slam off a pretty pass from Mudiay and Denver started running to take an early lead in the second half. The energy died out for both teams after that run and much like the first half, both teams traded a series of missed shots. Only Morris for the Pistons and Harris for the Nuggets seemed able to get the ball to go through the hoop. Nurkic had a solid series of plays off the bench at the end of the quarter to give the Nuggets a slight lead heading into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter fans were hoping for a big man duel when Nurkic and Drummond went one on one but Nurkic instead treated them to a one-sided domination with his combination of power and quickness. First he had an excellent post move, then a floater, then a wide open dunk, in a variety of ways he started finding his groove. The Nuggets got ahead by eight points but Anthony Tolliver suddenly started hitting three point shots and Denver's lead shrunk to one. After a timeout, Barton and Nurkic controlled the offensive and defensive sides of the game and not only got the lead back for the Nuggets, they extended it as well. After the lead reached 13 the Pistons did everything they could to try and get back into the game but just didn't have enough, Denver wins 103-92.
Key match up: Andre Drummond vs Nikola "Big Honey" Jokic
Drummond came out of the gate with a monster first half. His strength and size gave the Nuggets trouble no matter what big was defending him and Jokic was certainly no exception. While Big Honey had little success against Drummond, Nurkic had quite a bit. Caoch Malone made a solid adjustment and stuck with the Bosnian Beast down the stretch and he was rewarded by the best play we've seen from Nurkic all season. He used his size to be an imposing force on defense and used his quickness and soft touch on offense to get easy baskets. After collecting 13 points in the first half, Drummond only scored two in the second, largely because of Nurkic.
Key thing to watch for: Bigs rotation
Stan Van Gundy was forced to go with a smaller lineup tonight because of illness to Ersan Ilyasova (Reggie Jackson too) but with Darrell Arthur out as well coach Malone had only the Manimal and his trio of European bigs available and he mixed and matched among them. Jokic and Faried got the start but we saw a large portions of Joffrey Lauvergne and Nurkic as well. The Lauvergne/Nurkic pairing is particularly intriguing. Nurkic brings the power, Joffrey brings the range and both played good defense and rebounded effectively tonight.
The future is bright for Denver. Mudiay, Jokic and Harris look like they have very bright futures and Nurkic showed tonight why everyone was so high on him after last season. Throw in Lauvergne's strong play, the fact that Denver's top two scores are both a least a couple years south of thirty and there is A TON to like about this team's future. With so many young players there is an excellent opportunity to create rock solid chemistry as they grow in the NBA together and that is what can be the start of a something very special.
Box score via ESPN.com