The Denver Nuggets started their Thanksgiving celebration early and forgot to show up against the Houston Rockets, losing 125-95. Denver escaped an early injury scare with Jokic, who rolled his ankle but returned to the game, and that was absolutely the best news of the night. Nikola Jokic had 17 points and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes, Will Barton had 20 and 6, and Gary Harris scored 13. The rest of the roster was a no-show as the Rockets shot 56% from the field to Denver’s 36%. Denver got obliterated from the three point line, in the paint, and off of turnovers, and after the first four minutes it was never close. Trevor Ariza, Chris Paul and James Harden each scored 20+ and got whatever they wanted from anywhere on the court.
Will Barton took Denver's first shot and had it blocked, Jokic missed his first two shots, and both teams were out of sorts early. The score was 4-2 Houston with four minutes gone, with both teams combining to go 3-for-16 from the floor early. Chris Paul and James Harden had 9 of Houston's first 13, and a Trevor Ariza three-pointer made it 16-10 Rockets. They got up to 22-10 after some careless turnovers by the Nuggets' guards.
The Rockets moved to a pick-and-roll layup line as the first quarter continued, hitting eleven shots in a row while Denver looked ready for a Thanksgiving break. Houston put together a 20-4 run to blow the doors off the first quarter and led the listless Nuggets 36-17 after one.
Chris Paul opened the scoring for Houson in the second quarter by burying a three over Jokic. Jokic scored back on the other end, though, then snagged a free throw carom and turned it into a Murray layup. Denver began the game going 1-for-14 from three, settling for shots they were not making while the Rockets made almost everything they wanted, taking a 25-point lead, 48-23. Denver was still down 24 when Nikola Jokic rolled his ankle in a non-contact injury landing and all of Denver held its breath.
Ankle injury for Nikola Jokic. pic.twitter.com/O67U4okZgp— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) November 23, 2017
Honestly I have no idea what happened on the court for the next couple of minutes as I rewatched the video clip a hundred times and saw the end of Denver's competitive season flashing before my eyes. Houston was up 59-29 with just under 6 minutes left in the half and Denver provided the same resistance that WD40 gives a door hinge.
Luckily Jokic then checked back in a few minutes later and the injury seemed completely minor. He immediately hit a turnaround one-hander, but nothing and no one was stopping the Rockets. Mudiay blew two more shots at the rim, Barton and Chandler contributed almost nothing. And the Rockets just wouldn't miss, taking a 75-40 lead at the half.
The Rockets started the game 0 for 6. They've made 25 of their last 28.— Christian Clark (@cpclark93) November 23, 2017
Jokic has 14, Harris has 13, every other Nugget has 13 combined at the half.— Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs) November 23, 2017
Jokic came out with good energy, hitting a three, getting an offensive foul on Chris Paul and keeping up the good fight. Barton also hit a three and Chandler finished off a great pass as part of a 12-0 run for Denver to start the quarter.
Jokic then got elbowed in the face by Nene while also being called for the foul. The Rockets found the basket again, but Barton hit a three, finished a three-point play and rode home a steal on a layup to make it 81-60, Houston. Jokic missed a couple of shots that did everything but go in, however, and a turnover turned into an Ariza three. Apparently digging out of a 35-point hole against one of the best teams in the league is tough. Despite a great block by Barton of Harden at the buzzer, poor defensive rotations and mental mistakes let the lead slip back up to 32 by the end of the quarter, 99-67.
Denver's technique of defending Ariza by running away from him and then pointing at him is bold.— Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs) November 23, 2017
Houston also scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter, as the Nuggets failed to have any offense whatsoever with Jokic done for the game. The Nuggets scored four points in the first 7 minutes of the quarter which made the whole thing garbage time and not worth writing about.
- Not having Paul Millsap sucks. Three games in four nights doesn't help either, but Denver played like they didn't want to be there. It happens; it's a long season. Better luck next time, but Denver is going to have to find energy and execution without Millsap around to calm things down and anchor the defense - or get crucial buckets.
Maybe my relief at Jokic not being seriously injured is clouding my critical eye, but these games happen. For Denver they just need to happen less often, and their lack of will to compete after getting punched in the mouth is a little disheartening. Paul Millsap’s injury will be a season-long punch in the mouth; Denver had better figure out how to respond, and especially how to find any offense without Jokic on the court. Their habit of getting blown out in losses is becoming problematic.
Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, everyone. Best of luck to you and yours.