The Nuggets returned home from a one game road trip to host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, and lost at the buzzer to Caris LeVert 112-110. The Michigan product hit a floater in the middle of the lane with Gary Harris going for a steal and missing. Nikola Jokic had an excellent scoring performance with 37 points and 21 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough for the Nuggets, who once again couldn’t shoot from the perimeter, hitting just five threes as a team.
As we approached tipoff, there was but one question on the minds of Nuggets fans and media members: what’s going on with Nikola Jokic? The team’s best player was coming off of a four game stretch in which he barely looked to find his shot, capped off by the loss at Memphis in which he literally shot the ball just once.
Those who called for Jokic to be more aggressive got what they wanted in the first quarter. He put up 11 points and 6 rebounds on 5 shot attempts—connecting on all of them. But the aggressiveness didn’t equate to better results. Jokic posted five turnovers in less than 10 minutes, and his fellow starters combined for just two field goal attempts.
On the other end, the stellar defensive that’s been behind their 9-2 start was absent. The Nuggets have done an excellent job of defending the three ball this season, but Brooklyn scored their first 18 points of the game from deep. The Nets connect on a ridiculous 7 of their 13 first quarter threes and the Nuggets found themselves trailing 34 to 24 at the first break.
The second quarter featured more Nikola Jokic, who took seven more shots, sinking four of them. Again, Brooklyn sold out on the aerial attack, launching ten threes, but they cooled off, and connected on only two of them. Outside of Jokic, Denver continued to struggle on the offensive end. The Nets were sealed off the paint, determined to make the Nuggets beat them from deep. It worked. The Nuggets were held to just 23 points in the quarter. They trailed by seven at the half.
As the two teams headed into the locker room, Jokic was the only Nugget with double digits in the scoring column. Brooklyn was led by D’Angelo Russell, who recorded 12 points and 5 assists in just 13 minutes, and their young center, Jarrett Allen. Allen helped facilitate Brooklyn’s three point barrage with great reads and kick outs, and patrolled the paint on the other end, recording four blocks.
Torrey Craig opened the second half with a couple of missed threes, and coach Malone took him out quickly and inserting Malik Beasley. Jokic continued with his aggressiveness, staying involved in nearly every pick and roll and post up opportunity. Murray got going a little bit as well, playing the two-man game with Jokic as well as creating his own offense on switches. Still, Jokic stayed aggressive and had 34 points and 18 rebounds before going out at the 1:38 mark in the third quarter. The Nets responded with an 11-2 run to take back the lead 82-76.
To begin the fourth quarter, the Nuggets couldn’t generate any offense. Plumlee went to the free throw line a couple of times, Lyles went to the free throw line, but Denver managed to get by and keep the game close enough. Beasley hit an important transition three as well, earning him some crunch time minutes.
To close this game, it was a slog fest. Fouls on both teams led to many trips to the free throw line. Jokic went to the line. Allen went to the line. Everyone went to the line. What proceeded was poor execution from the Nuggets to close the game. Murray missed an open jumper. Jokic traveled on a spin move, and that gave Levert all the time he needed to can a floater to seal Denver’s fate at the buzzer. Final score: 112-110 Brooklyn.
Nuggets lost but this was a nice sequence. Jokic (with 5 fouls) stops Allen at the rim then leads the break to get an assist. He finished with 37 pts 21 rebs 3 asts 1 stl 2 blks pic.twitter.com/eRtviS8cnR— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) November 10, 2018
What the Stiffs said to watch:
A response to adversity for Nikola Jokic
Jokic finished with 37 points and 21 rebounds in this one, going 14/22 from the field in aggressive fashion. He only had 3 assists, partially because nobody else could shoot straight, but mostly because he made a point tonight to start his possessions with a primary goal: score.
How does Denver defend Caris LeVert?
Reasonably well until the end. LeVert finished the game with 17 points on 14 shots. He got free occasionally, but the Nuggets largely did a good job on him. Russell was more of a problem for Denver in this one, until of course he hit an open floater after Harris gambled for a steal.
How does Denver balance offense and defense?
The answer was a quick hook for Torrey Craig. With stints to begin the first and third quarters, Craig played just nine minutes total and going 1⁄4 from behind the three-point line. None of the other guards could shoot either, but there was at least a threat from the perimeter. The defense didn’t look very good from the outset due to giving up wide open perimeter jumpers, and the Nuggets needed the offensive personnel to keep up.
Final thought: Find someone who can space the floor
This was a classic “It’s Jokic and nobody else” game. The Joker had 37 points and was a beast inside and on the glass. He hit his only three-point attempt. The rest of the team was 4/17 from behind the arc and simply couldn’t score. The Nuggets have to figure out how to get everyone on the same page. There was a clear prerogative to get Jokic going scoring wise, but he needs help in the form of actual spacing. Jamal Murray attempted just one three-pointer tonight. That’s unacceptable.
If the Nuggets guards and forwards continue to shoot like high school guards testing their range for the first time, then it’s time for Denver to find other options.