The Denver Nuggets quietly steamrolled an aggressive offensive team in the Sacramento Kings, 126-112. The Kings made up some ground in garbage time but the lead hovered around 20 for most of the second half, with Gary Harris posting 18 points in a starter-most 26 minutes and Jamal Murray adding 19 as he got hot in the second half. Nikola Jokic posted an easy double-double as Denver had eight players in double figures and a solid effort to end a 4-0 first week of the season. Marvin Bagley III led the Kings with 20 points and Justin Jackson added 17 but they simply had no answer as Denver piled up 72 points in the paint and 49 rebounds to pull away as the game went on.
Paul Millsap started off with a couple of free throws, being aggressive early, and Harris banked home a shot. Denver had some early good ball movement and a transition 3 from Jamal Murray made it 7-4 early. Murray got two quick fouls though, leading to an early minutes for Monte Morris. Gary Harris hit a deep three and a terrific crossover finger roll to get Denver up 14-8, then started a fastbreak to Torrey Craig. It was the Harris quarter but early fouls on Denver created some matchup issues despite Denver having a 20-13 lead at the halfway point of the quarter.
Malone called a timeout as the Nuggets gave up some easy buckets but their offense stayed hot with repeated attacks at the basket (despite several poor attempts and turnovers near the hoop by Lyles) and offense initiated by Jokic netting them 22 points in the paint. The Nuggets couldn’t make the final shot of the quarter but still kept the 33-26 lead after one.
Denver started the second like they finished the first, with Malik Beasley and Mason Plumlee both crashing toward the rim, and then this cleanup off the glass by Lyles following his block on the other end.
He smashed another dunk home for a 41-26 Denver lead, and a tip in from Juancho followed by a three from Beasley pumped the lead to 16. Justin Jackson and Willie Cauley-Stein led the charge back for the Kings though, who cut it to 8 after a Nemanja Bjelica three pointer at 48-40. Jamal Murray had a terrific offensive rebound and finish, and Jokic led the offense with both passes and points to get the lead back to double digits at 56-45. Paul Millsap missed a pass from Jokic and then seemed to get offended, scoring and defending aggressively the rest of the quarter and even hitting his first three of the year.
De’Aaron Fox’s speed remained tough for Denver to handle as they kept sending him to the line, but the Nuggets answered in the paint on every occasion. Jokic racked up his third foul on a clean block, but other than foul trouble Denver didn’t struggle in too many other ways and finished the half up 68-55 after Gary Harris and Frank Mason III traded threes at the buzzer.
Denver opened the second half with a Jokic three and a Murray step-back two. Sacramento kept answering, but Murray’s step-back three showed his lower leg felt all right. Shumpert fired back with one of his own but Murray answered right back with another from deep, and then got fouled as he felt his shot out of halftime. His free throws put Denver up 20, 82-62, and Denver kept pushing the pace right back at Sacramento as one of the few teams in the league that can keep up their preferred pace. Then there was this beautiful Jokic-to-Murray give and go making an appearance:
Jokic sat soon after with his fourth foul and a pair of threes came from Sacramento to cut the lead under 20. The Nuggets still played hard though, rebounding and tossing oops to Mason Plumlee, and finished the quarter up 105-81.
The Nuggets started off the final quarter with the same energy, exemplified by Malik Beasley’s monster spike of a block:
Morris hit a three to put Denver up 110-83 but then Sacramento cut it back to 20, causing Malone to take a timeout to talk to the bench as things got a bit too individual on the offensive end. The Nuggets pulled it together, though, and their reserves closed out the game with plenty of margin to spare. Juancho hit a three, Thomas Welsh and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell got off the bench, and Tyler Lydon had a nice dunk in the waning minutes as the Nuggets closed out a 14 point win at 126-112 despite the Kings fighting to the end.
Denver’s offense still isn’t quite on track... but it’s definitely good enough. Now the Kings are the worst defensive team in the league, but the Nuggets played parts of this game like it was a rec game jogging contest and still got whatever they wanted. The dribble handoff and the give and go were in full effect off of Jokic, and Denver rained shots from all quadrants of the court. It was a relatively easy game, as it should be against Sacramento if Denver plans to be the team they can be this year. One team is still finding itself and one should have a pretty good idea of who they are and what they can do. In this game Denver did nearly everything well, and several players including Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap seemed to find a few things they’d been missing in their games previously.
Monte Morris is just the point guard Denver needs off the bench right now. He missed some shots he should have made tonight but his quicks on defense, his steady hand at the tiller on offense and his unflappable demeanor really helps a bench that can get fidgety at times. He stepped in for some of Will Barton starter minutes tonight when Jamal Murray got a pair of early fouls, but also led the bench that wrapped the game up with a bow, letting the starters stay on the bench down the stretch.
Everybody on the bench had a highlight, but nobody on the bench really stood out - they just played ball the right way for long stretches, which didn’t happen enough last season. Denver’s starters can get them to the promised land of the playoffs, but it will be their bench play that gets them in the conversation for home court, so these big minutes in early games can only help them find their footing.