The Denver Nuggets were coming off their best game of the season when they welcomed the Miami Heat into town and they kept the good mojo going. Despite a big night from Goran Dragic and some late quarter heroics, Denver was able to hold on. Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap led the way for the Nuggets and Emmanuel Mudiay put in yet another solid performance off the bench to give Denver the edge. It would come right down to the wire, but Millsap proved to be ultra clutch and got Denver the win 95-94.
The Heat opened by going straight to Whiteside in the post against Jokic on their first two possessions, and he followed that up with an emphatic rejection of Jamal Murray. There was a clear emphasis on points in the paint for the Heat, but luckily, Jokic was able to draw a quick foul on Whiteside, making him more hesitant about getting physical early. Goran Dragic picked up the slack for the Heat though with some timely outside shooting. Miami was able to seize an early lead but the Nuggets were getting good movement off ball, and Jokic and Millsap were finding the open cutters which kept Denver in it. Jokic also was getting it done scoring himself but the Nuggets weren’t playing very much defense so at the end of one Miami led 37-28.
The second quarter opened up with much more emphasis on the defensive end from both teams and the Nuggets got an 8-2 run to get within two points. Unfortunately their typical energy lineup that features Kenneth Faried, Malik Beasley and Will Barton was anything but energetic and the Heat quickly put some space between themselves and the Nuggets on the scoreboard. Just as quickly as the Heat responded though, the Nuggets came right back with a Millsap bucket, steal and then assist to Gary Harris for an open transition three. The Heat still maintained a small lead and were up by two with 3:30 left to go in the half when Whiteside picked up his third foul and put the Nuggets in the bonus. Turnovers and poor three point defense kept the Nuggets from seizing the opportunity though and they trailed at the half 58-51.
The Nuggets got off to a sluggish start in the second half and committed several fouls early. As was the case in the first half, they didn’t let Miami get away from them. Millsap was the driving force keeping the Nuggets in the game, playing superb defense and making tough shots on offense. The Heat started getting sloppy and committed several turnovers so that when Wilson Chandler buried a three right around the 6 minute mark the Nuggets got their first lead of the game 65-63. Defense remained the theme as the quarter was winding up but Millsap continued to assert himself on both ends which kept Denver in front 76-71 after three.
Wilson Chandler got the scoring started in the final quarter with a three and then Jokic followed right after with one of his own. It started to feel very much like the Heat were running out of gas and Denver stretched their lead to eight but the Heat kept fighting back. At the eight minute mark Mudiay had a beautiful block which he then finished with a dunk in transition and again you could feel the air starting to come out of Miami. Denver just couldn’t pull away though and after a ridiculous sequence by both teams that had to involve at least 5 turnovers in a row the Nuggets still led by only nine with just about five minutes to go. The Heat were able to fight back once again and Whiteside started to come alive. A josh Richardson three with 2:11 to go in the game completed the comeback and got Miami back in front 91-89. Millsap got a free throw to get it to 90-91 as the game headed into the final minute and Harris followed that up with an incredibly tough shot to get Denver back the lead. Dion Waiters answered back with a tough layup of his own. Johnson fouled Millsap with 26 seconds remaining but he couldn’t convert at the line. Denver intentionally fouled Dragic who converted one of two and Millsap, as he had all night, saved Denver’s bacon pump faking Johnson into a three point shooting foul. Millsap made up for his previous trip to the line and sunk all three to give the Nuggets a one point lead. Waiters missed at the Buzzer and Denver got the W.
Best matchup: Goran Dragic vs Paul Millsap
Dragic and Millsap obviously didn’t go at each other one on one, but each guy was the main catalyst keeping his team going when they were struggling. Millsap was his usual self, making all the little plays, especially on defense, to cover up the mistakes other guys were making. Meanwhile, Dragic flat out could not miss and provided offense for the Heat when virtually no one else was with any consistency. He also was able to bother Jamal Murray and keep him from shooting at will.
Main thing I noticed: Jokic dominated Whiteside
You know how many rebounds Hassan Whiteside had at halftime? A big ol goose egg, that’s how many. He had a whole one after three quarters as well. For the most part Whiteside avoided foul trouble but he couldn’t get it going at all. There were a couple blocks but otherwise the game was a dud. Meanwhile Jokic dominated the offensive glass and had no problem getting a double double. For how often Whiteside has dominated Denver, it was very refreshing to see the Nuggets center get the better end of the matchup for once.
Closing thought: Millsap is so damn good
Millsap had his best night scoring in a Nuggets uniform but I can’t stop talking about his defense. In the second half the Nuggets switched Millsap onto Whiteside but it didn’t matter if he was covering the Heat’s star center or James Johnson he flat out wasn’t letting anyone score on him. He also was consistently making the right play on offense and only forcing when he had to (his forced shots were dropping as well) and when it came down to the final moments, it was Paul getting the crucial play for the win. A couple weeks in the season and you can tell he’s still getting used to the new system but tonight was a perfect example of the type of game changer Millsap can be on both ends of the court.