The Sacramento Kings came to visit the Denver Nuggets in what might have been George Karl's final game in the Pepsi Center and if it was they sent the coach off with a win. The Nuggets looked like they were going to control the game throughout but ended up letting it slip away in the fourth quarter with some bad defense and didn't have enough energy to mount a last gasp comeback. Big performances from Rudy Gay and Seth Curry fueled Sacramento through to the end and they end up picking up the win, 115-106.
Both teams opened by sharing the basketball and converting on offense. Each of the Nuggets starters scored in the first five minutes of the game and only Darren Collison for the Kings starters was kept off the scoreboard in the beginning of the first quarter. Emmanuel Mudiay was dishing left and right and a Gary Harris three put Denver ahead by four to break up a back and forth game that already had five lead changes. Jusuf Nurkic checked in after missing three games with a sinus infection and the Nuggets went with the Nikola Jokic/Nurkic big man pairing. They worked well together, feeding one another with their superior passing ability while also dominating the glass, but some solid bench scoring from Sacramento kept the game close and Denver led by just four at the end of the first.
The Kings opened the second with a mix of starters and reserves whereas the Nuggets were playing their full bench lineup. Denver was scoring through the post whereas the Kings found success through Gay and Curry. The game was tight but the french connection of Axel Toupane and Joffrey Lauvergne brought some very aggressive play which helped keep the Nuggets in front and put the pressure on Sacramento. Curry kept the Kings in it as he facilitated the offense and knocked down jumpers in a very similar fashion to his brother. He scored his seventeenth point with just over two minutes left in the quarter to get the Kings within one but a strong close by the Nuggets gave them a seven point lead at half.
The second half opened slowly for both teams as neither was shooting well. In fact it was until nearly three minutes had passed before the Nuggets finally scored via a monster slam from Jakarr Sampson which seemed to get Denver kick started. They pushed the pace to get their lead up to double digits behind Sampson's strong play. Harris also started to catch fire and the Manimal highlighted the defensive play with a ferocious block. However the Kings responded just after the five minute mark and an and one by Gay reduced Denver's lead to six. The Nuggets bench continued to struggle to contain Sacramento and a poor close to the quarter made it look like they could possibly trail but a clutch three from Harris made it a four point Nugget lead after three.
The Denver bench opened the fourth producing points, including Toupane who was having one of his, if not the, best nights in his short Nuggets career, but that wouldn't last. The Kings fought back through Willie Cauley-Stein and at the nine minute mark a pair of Ben McLemore threes capped a 10-0 run to give Sacramento a four point lead. Denver's bench line up went stagnant on offense as they struggled mightily to score and the Kings expanded their lead. Toupane appeared to be the only one on offense who was able to score at all while Gay was having a field day on the other end for Sacramento. Mudiay hit a three with two minutes remaining to pull Denver within five with but Denver would ultimately be unable to complete the quick comeback and took the loss.
Box score via ESPN.com
Best match up: Gary Harris vs Seth Curry
Curry didn't get the start but he absolutely caught fire coming off the bench in the first half and coach Karl inserted him into the starting line up to open the second half. That's where he would start to cool off and Harris started taking over. Harris had a monster third quarter to keep Denver in front when the Kings were threatening and his three point shooting was especially good tonight. It'll be interesting to see if Seth can catch on in the league next season. He definitely flashed his scoring ability in the first half but in no way is he even in the same stratosphere as his brother. Still, it looked like he could be a valuable part of a rotation, at least for tonight he was.
Main thing I noticed: Coach Malone went BIG the whole game
The Kings were without DeMarcus Cousins tonight and that meant a lot of time for Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos on the court together. Coach Malone countered by keeping two of Faried/Jokic/Nurkic/Lauvergne on the court at all times, and Faried only tallied sixteen minutes. When it was Nurkic and Jokic together they looked much more comfortable than their previous times together on the court. No doubt that line up is intriguing but so is the Nurkic Lauvergne pairing. Each of those two have solid back to the basket games on offense (Lauvergne is more polished but Nurk has more brute strength) and not many teams in the NBA put two solid post defenders on the court at the same time to handle that kind of down low attack.
Closing thought: I almost the Nuggets were sneak tanking
Denver controlled this game for three quarters and then once the fourth started they completely fell off a cliff, missing nine shots in a row at one point. It's curious because there is absolutely zero reason for Denver to have lost this game. The Kings were on a back to back, coming from the west coast with about half their starters missing and yet somehow they were the ones with energy to close out the game.It almost appeared as though Denver was trying to lose but a better trained eye shows that they went ice cold from the floor to start the fourth while McLemore got red hot and by the time they got their offense back together is was just a wee bit too late.