Jamal Murray finished with 38 points in a 104-101 win over the hated Portland Trail Blazers, gifting Jusuf Nurkic a loss in his return to Pepsi Center.
Nikola Jokic had a double-double, with 16 points and 12 rebounds, as the Nuggets were able to pull out an impressive win on their homecourt, guaranteeing that they will split the season series against the Trail Blazers.
Damian Lillard had 25 points and eight assists in 38 minutes for Portland, but was blocked in the final minute of the game, and the ball deflected off his finger, giving Denver possession of the ball in a key moment of the game. Nurkic had 19 and 12, with three blocks, but wasn’t able to pull out a win over his former team.
The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, with the offense clicking when Jokic was given a chance to create scoring opportunities. They got a little comfortable, and their intensity on defense dropped a few notches, and Portland was able to catch back up thanks to a run of their own.
Wilson Chandler and Trey Lyles were the first subs off the bench, for Barton and Plumlee, and the ball started popping. The Nuggets missed some shots they normally would make, including a bunny by Chandler after a nifty Jokic pass, but both teams struggled to score and the first quarter ended with the Nuggets up by one, 20-19.
CJ McCollum had fun against the Nuggets reserves to start the second quarter, getting some points on the board to help the Trail Blazers take the lead. Chandler and Lyles had blocks on back-to-back possessions, but the reserves struggled to score with Ed Davis protecting the paint and cleaning the defensive glass.
Jokic checked back in, and knocked down two 3-pointers, but picked up his third foul after Plumlee gambled for a steal and left his teammate out to dry. Lillard took over in the final minutes of the half, with eight straight points, including a deep 3-pointer. The story of the first half for both teams was poor shooting, with Portland shooting 42 percent while Denver shot 39 percent. Murray had 17 points on nine shots, feeling it in the first 24. Portland had 18 points off 11 Denver turnovers, and that helped them take a 49-45 lead into halftime.
The Nuggets started the third quarter on another 8-0 run, with the highlight of that run coming on an alley-oop from Jamal Murray to Mason Plumlee. Nurkic was able to beat the Nuggets defense down the court in transition on a few plays, getting good positioning and easy shot attempts. Both teams got into the bonus, with the Nuggets attacking the rim late in the quarter to chip away from the free throw line. Portland got some 3-pointers late, and had a 78-76 lead going into the third quarter.
The Trail Blazers continued to grind the clock down, using a majority of the shot clock to use the clock to their advantage. Ed Davis continued to excel inside, grabbing rebounds and throwing down a couple of dunks. Jamal Murray checked back in, after checking out early in the third quarter due to foul trouble. He didn’t cool off on the bench, knocking down a midrange jumper to pull Denver within four.
Will Barton got his first points of the game from the free throw line with 3:18 remaining in the game, cutting the Portland lead down to three. Jamal Murray knocked down a 3-pointer after a Plumlee offensive rebound to tie the game, and got the ball back on the next possession after McCollum lost the ball out of bounds.
Damian Lillard made a veteran play on Murray, driving to the rim and finishing through contact, but he missed the free throw to bump Portland’s lead up to 99-97. The Nuggets went on a run after that, and made their free throws to win a close game, 104-101.
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Jamal Murray is really good. He had an amazing night, knocking down shots from all over the court. You could tell he really enjoyed playing fast, and he was very confident tonight as well. It’s fun to have him on our team.
The new rotation is going to be something to talk about. Will Barton started over Wilson Chandler, with Mason Plumlee starting over Trey Lyes. Barton didn’t have a good game - in fact, it was quite poor - but Plumlee was alright, with 11 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Plumlee really struggled at times against Nurkic, and Jokic went 5 for 17 from the field. Chandler and Lyles were the first guys off the bench, and Emmanuel Mudiay played 11 minutes (0-4, 1 rebound, 1 turnover).
It kind of worked? It’s a rotation I really wouldn’t mind seeing after Paul Millsap is back, with Plumlee moving to the bench and being the 8th man. Hopefully the coaching staff can figure things out.