The Denver Nuggets latest stop on their six game road trip was in Indianapolis to take on the red hot Indiana Pacers. Despite a huge performance from Trey Lyles, the Nuggets didn’t have enough to cool off Indiana and Victor Oladipo as he exploded for a career high in scoring to power the Pacers to a win. The Nuggets led early but faded late and ran out of gas in overtime to lose their third game on the current six game road trip.
The Nuggets opened up shooting well. Wilson Chandler hit a pair of threes out of the gate and Will Barton chipped in with 5 early points of his own to force coach Nate McMillan to take an early timeout with the Nuggets leading 13-4. Chandler continued to provide the offense early while the Pacers went to their bench to get some energy from Domantas Sabonis who got three quick field goals. Chandler kept the Nuggets in front but turnovers and Oladipo made sure Denver didn’t open up a big lead halfway through the first quarter. As the quarter closed coach Malone went with a bench plus Gary Harris lineup and though they didn’t score a ton, Harris got a few buckets and Emmanuel Mudiay hit Lyles with a beautiful assist for a corner three. Meanwhile the Pacers got careless with the basketball which let Denver get ahead 35-22 after one.
Mudiay opened the second quarter with a turnover on an alley-oop attempt to Kenneth Faried but the bench (this time teamed up with Barton) otherwise got off to a solid start. They were getting points on the hustle plays and the defense was holding up. Barton was leading a scoring barrage for the Nuggets while the Pacers were struggling to get anything going on offense outside of Sabonis in the post. The Nuggets lead quickly surpassed fifteen. Once again, turnovers prevented the Nuggets from running away with it, once the Pacers starters came back in they went on a mini-run behind Myles Turner. Coach Michael Malone took a timeout when the lead got back down to fourteen but it was the Pacers who won the timeout and got the lead all the way down to ten. The Nuggets sloppy play continued all the way into the break and Indiana rode a 9-2 run at the end of the half to get Denver’s lead down to seven points.
The defense optional style of game that ruled the second quarter was prevalent again as the second half started. The Nuggets guards were hitting their jumpers while Oladipo led the scoring for the Pacers. The Nuggets didn’t let Indiana get all the way back in it but they didn’t pull away either. The Pacers kept right within the six point range as the quarter turned past the half way point and when Oladipo buried a three followed by a Turner dunk right before the four minute mark the Pacers tied the game at 79. The Nuggets were able to keep up scoring but their defense was non existent. Oladipo sunk a layup with about two minutes to go to give Indiana their first lead of the game at 84-83. He seized the momentum to close out the quarter and behind his play the Pacers held a 90-88 lead going into the final quarter.
The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter cold, they didn’t register a point until over two minutes had passed. Luckily the Pacers weren’t able to run away with it and when Lyles scored a layup to get Denver on the board in the fourth they only trailed by four points. The local kid was leading the way for the Nuggets in the early fourth quarter. He buried a three pointer right at the 8 minute mark which put the Nuggets back in front 97-96. That also sparked a three point spree for the Nuggets. Lyles quickly hit another three and then Barton followed with one of his own. By mid fourth quarter Lyles was full out on fire. Denver started going to him every possession on his way to a career high in points. The Nuggets turnovers, particularly the screening fouls this time, continued to plague them though and the Pacers and Oladipo kept hanging around. With a minute and a half to go Denver led 114-110. Oladipo scored for the Pacers and Barton took an ill advised three to give the Pacers the final possession down two points. Oladipo would miss a layup but Thaddeus Young was there for the clean up to tie the game with 5 seconds to go. The Nuggets would go to isolation with Barton and he got off a contested fade away that wound up short and pushed the game into overtime.
Overtime started out poorly for Denver and never got any better. Turner and Oladipo hit back to back shots while the Nuggets committed back to back turnovers. Oladipo then hit a three in between a Nuggets miss and an offensive foul and it looked like overtime was quickly about to get away from them with Indiana up 121-114. The Nuggets simply could not buy a basket in OT. When Turner hit a turn around jumper with a minute to go to put the Pacers lead up to 11 it was all but over. Pacers end up getting the win to chants of M-V-P while Oladipo iced at the line to finish with 47 points. Final score 126-116.
Best matchup: Gary Harris vs Victor Oladipo
The key matchup did not disappoint as Oladipo and Harris both played big roles in the game. Oladipo played like the top option on a team. He didn’t flat out dominate early on but every time the momentum started to swing into Denver’s favor he was there with a big three or a pair of buckets to keep things from getting out of hand. Harris likewise was consistently there to keep Denver from letting their lead slip away as long as possible. Barton and Chandler got the Nuggets out in front early but it was Harris’ timely scoring that kept their momentum going. Oladipo would end up with a huge night as he lead all scorers and Harris would get over twenty points of his own. Unfortunately Gary wasn’t able to keep pace with Oladipo (not many people could) who full out took over for the Pacers down the stretch and powered them to a victory.
Main thing I noticed: the Nuggets bench is inconsistent, but it’s getting by
With Barton starting the Nuggets bench looked pretty thin in terms of scoring punch. However, while the Nuggets haven’t found one player who has been able to consistently give the production that Barton does, they have been able to survive by using a group effort. Last game it was Mudiay and Malik Beasley providing the scoring off the bench and tonight it was Lyles. He had somewhat of a quiet start but was huge for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter. While coach Malone surely prefers having Barton with the reserves (if nothing else than because it likely would mean Nikola Jokic was back), it’s nice to know the rest of his second unit can step up when they need to.
Closing thought: It’s going to be good to get Jokic back
Jokic being out has it’s benefits. The Nuggets haven’t completely folded without him and their guards have shown the ability to carry the team in spots. However, getting him back will be a big boost for the team. Tonight was a perfect example of where Denver can find a way to be productive but when it gets down to crunch time they have a hard time deciding who to go to. Barton cooled off considerably down the stretch and there’s only so much one can expect out of Lyles. Have to feel like if the Nuggets had Nikola they could have slammed the door shut in the fourth quarter in this game. Here’s hoping the big man can make it back for at least one of the remaining two games on the road trip.