The Denver Nuggets were looking to ride momentum into a tough stretch of their season by picking up their third win in a row. In order to do that they would have to beat the Dallas Mavericks who have been looking towards the lottery ever since the beginning of December. Dallas ended up presenting much more of a challenge than the Nuggets probably bargained for and the result was a tight game throughout. Nikola Jokic had a triple double and the Nuggets earned a close victory.
The Nuggets opened up the game hot from the field, there early scoring was punctuated by Jokic doing a “Dirk” with a one legged fadeaway. Will Barton and Gary Harris continued the barrage from beyond the three point line and at the 9 minute mark, Rick Carlisle was forced to take a timeout with the Mavericks trailing 15-4. Denver would hit their first seven shots and when they finally did miss one, Mason Plumlee was there for the put back. After the half way mark of the quarter the Mavericks regained some momentum on a bad sequence from Plumlee. First, he missed a dunk, then left his man wide open in the corner and then had a bad turnover. Denver’s hot start early was enough to keep them in front but Dallas’ bench was outplaying Denver’s and they had closed the gap considerably. By the end of the first, Denver’s lead was just 30-26.
The second quarter didn’t start off great for the Nuggets as they gave up a three, Plumlee missed a dunk, and Emmanuel Mudiay (who had just checked in) grabbed a quick foul. Plumlee looked particularly sloppy and was trying to do too much on offense as a facilitator. When Yogi Ferrell hit a jumper at the eight minute mark the Nuggets big early lead had officially evaporated and the score was tied at 35. Turnovers were the story, the Nuggets were not valuing the ball and playing extra sloppy. Also not helping was the fact that the Nuggets had gone ice cold from the field. Jokic finally hit a three with just over five minutes to go as the starters had checked back in to try to regain control of the game. They did just that with an 8-0 run (aided by a Dennis Smith Jr. technical foul) to put them back ahead by six. The quarter had mostly been a dud but with just about a minute to go Jokic made one of his crazy volleyball passes to Trey Lyles in the lane who promptly threw it down and brought the crowd roaring to their feet. Denver would wind up heading to the break at the half up 50-42.
Dallas started out strong in the second half with a 5-0 run to open. The Nuggets offense was stagnating with too much going through Plumlee. Luckily Plumdog was proving to be useful on the defensive end, highlighted by his monster block on Smith. Plumlee was really struggling on offense though with another turnover on an entry pass. That led to a fast break for the Mavericks which ended in a Maximilian Kleber three and Dallas regaining the lead. Murray, who once again began the half on the bench, checked in and sparked Denver’s offense a little bit but overall they were getting very little on offense. The Nuggets brought the crowd back to life with a nice sequence where Jokic had a smothering block and then Murray led the break, threw a behind the back pass to Harris and Harris buried a three. The Mavericks would respond, going on an 8-1 run to get back in front. The Nuggets closed out the quarter sloppy, with two bad decisions by Murray and two baskets on the other end for Dallas. At the end of three the Mavericks were up 74-66.
Once again, Denver did not come out of the break strong, they opened the fourth with a couple turnovers and the Mavericks lead ballooned to near double digits. Murray found some rhythm and struck back with a 5-0 run all of his own. Murray continued to be the source of offense for the Nuggets who were keeping pace with the Mavericks and staying within striking distance. Denver wasn’t doing themselves any help with their fouls though, Dallas was in the penalty with over five minutes still to go in the game. The intensity picked up in the arena though, with the momentum winging in Denver’s favor. The Pepsi Center exploded when Harris hit a jumper to regain the lead. Denver was clinging to a 1 point lead with the game in the last two minutes when the refs gave some favorable calls to the Mavericks and they tied it up. Harris hit a three but Wes Matthews responded in kind. Jokic would hit a three of his own to get his triple double and another miss by the Mavericks put them on life support down two with less than a minute to go and the Nuggets with possession. Denver had two shots to close it out but Jokic missed a three and then after an offensive rebound he got called for a foul with 11 seconds to go. Barton erased a Smith layup at the rim but it was still Dallas’ ball with 4 seconds to go. Finally, Wes Matthews missed a game winner, giving the Nuggets the victory 91-89.
Best matchup: Yogi Ferrell vs Jamal Murray
Murray got a lot of action against Dallas’ bench guards tonight and late in the game he was able to take advantage, it certainly wasn’t one of those nights where Murray was lighting up the scoreboard but he had some key shots to offset his mistakes. Meanwhile Ferrell had his speed on full display. There were a couple times where he drew some oohs and ahhs out of the crowd with his moves and on one play in particular in the second quarter he straight up froze Barton. I’m always pulling for Yogi, it’s cool to see his story of 10 day contract to legit NBA player wasn’t just a fluke.
Main thing I noticed: Jamal Murray did not start
It was rather noticeable that Murray was omitted from the starting lineup tonight. Word out of the Pepsi Center is that Murray’s benching was a disciplinary action. It’s not likely that this will last more than just tonight. It’s a bit alarming though. Murray by all accounts has a good head on him and he lives, eats and breathes basketball so its hard to think he was blowing something off. We’ll likely never get the full story from the team but here’s hoping Malone’s message hit home and they’ll be no more slip ups from Denver’s young point guard.
Closing thought: the Plumkic lineup was back to bad
I thought tonight was more noticeable than most when it came to the deficiencies of the Plumkic lineup. Plumlee definitely was dictating the offense much more than Jokic and it just wasn’t working. Last time the Nuggets played the Mavericks they made a point to play less of the Plumkic lineup and go at Dirk with Jokic. The result was that Jokic had one of his biggest games of the season. I’m not sure why coach Malone went away from that tonight but it did not appear to be a great decision.