The Denver Nuggets came into tonight with something that's been foreign to them lately: expectation. As the 4 seed in the Las Vegas Summer League tournament, people expected the Nuggets to win. After coming out a little slow, they finished strong, behind 20 efficient points from Jamal Murray. The final score was 80-60, and it didn't even feel that close at the end.
Petr Cornelie began the scoring for the Nuggets with a midrange jump shot, but from there, the play was pretty sloppy on both sides. Mishandling of the ball, turnovers, and the ball careening every which direction were representative of the first quarter. Cornelie and Murray kept the Nuggets ahead of Utah for the majority of the quarter, combining for 11 of the Nuggets' 23 points.
Denver had average intensity to begin the second quarter, and it led to some easy baskets for the Jazz. On one particular sequence, Jimmer Fredette felt like he got fouled on one end, then lunged half heartedly at a steal, allowing a dunk. The team improved though, beginning and ending with Juancho Hernangomez and Cornelie stepping up on both ends. Juancho used his soft touch on offense to get some easy points, including a speedy drive past the gargantuan Tibor Pleiss who fouled him. Cornelie added a rejection on the other end which jumpstarted the defensive intensity as well. Murray showed some incredible hustle, and in one sequence blocked two shots while altering another. The half ended with the Nuggets up 37-33 after a nicely drawn up play for Jamal Murray didn't fall.
In the third quarter though, Murray started catching fire. He cashed in a three pointer, a layup, another three, and a midrange jumper. The group on the floor built a nice cushion in the first few minutes on the back of great defensive hustle and Murray's offensive firepower.
Michael Malone joined the NBATV broadcast and continued to talk up the moves Denver made, but also said the Dwyane Wade sit-down was a win-win, that it verified what Denver was building. I'm a firm believer in this.
Anyway, the Nuggets continued to pour it on, outscoring the Jazz 27-12 in the quarter and finishing the third with a 64-45 lead.
Both teams started out the fourth quarter slow, and only five points were scored in the first three and a half minutes, the fifth point being a technical foul free throw that Murray at 20 points. Axel Toupane had a nice chase down block on his man in the half court, followed by a Josh Adams three at the shot clock buzzer. After that, Josh Scott and Antonio Barton made appearances and played some garbage time minutes.
Boxscore via NBA.com
Key Matchup: Joel Bolomboy vs Juan Hernangomez
It was a quiet matchup between Bolomboy and Hernangomez. Both players had modest stat lines, and while they each made some nice plays and good rebounds, their collective impact was minimal in this contest. Bolomboy had 6 points and 8 rebounds, while Juancho had 8 points and 4 rebounds.
Key thing to watch for: Will there be more Jamal Murray hero ball?
The short answer is no. Although he didn't have a ton of assists, it never felt like Murray was pressing too much for his own shot. He simply shot efficiently. 20 points on 13 shots along with 5 rebounds is a great stat line for Murray. He didn't get credited with two blocks, but he also had some incredible hustle, particularly on a sequence in the second quarter.
Murray gives me a ton of optimism. He played on and off ball, took open shots, took contested shots, and made them. Can he continue to develop into a high quality scorer? Time will tell, but he's given me nothing but optimism in that regard.
Closing thoughts: Let's win this thing.
The Nuggets will play this Saturday against the Phoenix Suns in what amounts to a quarterfinal game. They are two wins away from the Las Vegas Summer League championship game. Sure, Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris are sitting. Sure, the 19th overall pick, Malik Beasley, hasn't even played yet. Who cares? Jamal Murray and company have proven to be enough to win by themselves, especially as Murray has improved. Let's continue to establish chemistry and go out and compete as hard as we can. This group cans seriously win the tournament, and it's a small step to show that the Nuggets are about to arrive, very, very shortly.