The Denver Nuggets were looking for some revenge for their buzzer beater loss to the Brooklyn Nets about a month ago. What they got instead was a series of flashbacks and another heartbreaking loss. Despite some outstanding play from Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets sloppy play, lack of defense and some mental breakdowns late ended up doing them in. It wasn't very pretty, but Brooklyn gets the win 121-120 in overtime.
The first quarter started well for Denver. The Nets played some incredibly sloppy basketball and the Nuggets opened with a series of layups and dunks to jump ahead early. Unfortunately, after the quick start the defense became non existent, particularly when it came to covering Bojan Bogdanovic. He hit three shots in a row (two from beyond the arc) and Brooklyn rode a 13-2 run to go ahead of the Nuggets. Both teams got disinterested in trying to make the other team miss shots at that point and the back and forth scoring affair ended with the Nets leading 31-25.
The second quarter started much as the first ended, with terrible defense especially at the three point line. The only difference was it was Shane Larkin and Markel Brown doing the damage to the Nuggets. Luckily, D.J. Augustin looked to replicate his 4th quarter from the previous game and finally started turning the momentum in Denver's favor. He even managed to create a four point play when he got a questionable foul call and banked home a three. Against most teams, the Nuggets likely would have been left in the dust long ago due to their complete lack of defense but the Nets execution was severely lacking which kept their lead just bordering on the edge of double figures.Denver got a mini 7-2 run from their rookie duo to close out the half and they trailed 63-57.
Coach Michael Malone must have had some choice words for the team at half time because they came out in the second half and played much better to start. After trading baskets for a few minutes, the Nuggets opened up a 11-4 run to take the lead at about the midway point of the third quarter. It was short lived as Thaddeus Young and Sean Kilpatrick responded for the Nets. The defense improved (slightly) to close out the third quarter and the Nuggets got some solid play from Harris in particular to keep the pace with the Nets. He looked like a true two way player as the third quarter ended, being disruptive and getting steals on defense and then converting difficult layups at the other end. Typical of how they had played most the game however, the Nuggets left Brown wide open for a buzzer beating shot and the third quarter ended in a tie 90-90.
Jakarr Sampson opened the 4th quarter with a rim rattling dunk and Chris Marlowe wondered if perhaps that would spark some energy on the defensive end. Unfortunately, Chris McCullough promptly went and threw down an alley-oop slam and then the Nets followed that with a wide open Brown three pointer. This type of sloppy play would end up being the theme of the final quarter.
A perfect example was a series where Kilpatrick had a wiiiiiiiide open three in the corner which he missed and that resulted in a Will Barton missed layup and a Sampson blown putback dunk on the other end. Augustin hit a three with six minutes remaining which gave Denver the lead at 102-101. After a timeout Jokic and Harris got back to back blocks and whether it was good D or more likely just bad shooting from the Nets, Denver finally started to stop the bleeding.
With sixty seconds to go Denver had the ball and a one point lead but Barton forced a shot which was blocked and gave Brooklyn an easy two on the other end. The Nuggets followed that up with another turnover but Larkin missed a layup and, after a timeout, Denver went with their rookie point guard one on one against Larkin who attempted to intentionally foul Mudiay but was too late and ended up surrendering an and one. Denver should have had the win right there but the refs made a terrible call and gave Bogdanovic three free throws. He'd convert two of three and Harris would miss a three at the buzzer on the other end to send the game into overtime.
Denver opened the overtime with an alley-oop from Jokic to Harris as the youngsters carried the team in extra time. Brooklyn hung tight though as the teams traded baskets. Mudiay was huge for Denver, grabbing rebounds and scoring on offense. Unfortunately, an advantageous whistle for the Nets gave them a three point lead with under three minutes to go. The Nuggets went ice cold but luckily so did the Nets and neither team scored until there was one minute left on the clock when Mudiay hit a lay up to bring it within one.
After another miss from the Nets, Mudiay again got to the lane and was able to draw the foul and convert at the line to get Denver the lead. Lopez turned the ball over on the other end and Denver had a chance to win but a poor possession resulted in a bad shot from Barton and the Nets got the ball down one with six seconds. Larkin drove to the lane and missed a lay up but Lopez tipped in the follow with 0.4 seconds left. Jokic could not convert an odd play call on the other end and the Nuggets lose 121-120.
Key matchup: Brook Lopez against Denver's bigs
Lopez and Jokic had a nice battle down low tonight. Each one got into double figures and Jokic earned a double double. Lopez used his size to get position down low on Jokic and while he didn't convert all the time he was able to get numerous foul calls. Joffrey didn't match up with Lopez as much but he still had himself a nice game on offense, scoring 14 points. Yes, as was the case for most everyone there were points all around. Jusuf Nurkic recorded another DNP-CD.
Key thing to watch for: Experimentation
Coach Malone went with some more traditional lineups tonight, keeping either Joffrey or Jokic in the lineup at all times. He definitely would rely on his young players tonight, specifically Harris, Mudiay and Jokic. I thought it was quite interesting with the game on the line at the end of the fourth quarter Malone went with Mudiay to get the points on the final possession. We did also get to see a brief cameo from Axel Toupane, Denver's newest Nugget. His five minutes were ultimately forgettable as he had only one rebound and two fouls to speak for.
Closing thought: This game was bad
Without a doubt this was a game between two teams who are not very good. It was marred with turnovers, bad defense and missed wide open shots. The Nuggets had chance after chance to close this game out and couldn't get it done. I don't know if I've watched a sloppier game this year, certainly not in the second half of the season. On the bright side, the young guns played strong and there were plenty of plays from Mudiay in particular that showed the growth in confidence this teams has. As the growing pains become fewer and further between the Nuggets will be a good team, but for now that's just not the case. The Nets are just bad.