The Denver Nuggets won on Friday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder . Nikola Jokic finished with 24 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists. Jamal Murray chipped in 19 points. Russell Westbrook chipped in some grouchiness.
Im dying. Watch Westbrook tell everyone he’s good. We good. But Jokic? “I’ll f**k you up.” pic.twitter.com/Xtk3IxegeW— Agent of NBA Chaos (@WorldWideWob) December 15, 2018
The Nuggets starting lineup began the game sloppily, with multiple turnovers, but Denver received some surprising outside shooting to balance it. Three pointers from Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, and Nikola Jokic set the tone, even though Steven Adams hurt the Nuggets on the interior on the other end. He began the game with 14 points on nine shots, scoring on Jokic, Mason Plumlee, and Trey Lyles equally.
Craig was by far the most bizarre contributor to begin the game. With 11 points on a perfect 4/4 from the field and 3/3 from behind the arc, Craig took a shot at his critics with his start to the game. Still, the Thunder battled back and stayed within striking distance of Denver, as the Nuggets led 39-32 after one quarter.
Nuggets with a solid first Q, 39 points against the #1 defense but end of Q plays like the one Beasley just made are absolutely killer. Chance to go up 12, instead go up 7.— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) December 15, 2018
Nick Young made his Nuggets debut to start the second quarter to a large ovation, playing the power forward spot next to Murray, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, and Trey Lyles. Young did exactly what he was brought in to do and got up two threes in a short amount of time, making one that nearly broke Pepsi Center. Still, a bad trend developed for the Nuggets: they couldn’t box out Steven Adams. The Big Kiwi had eight offensive rebounds in the first half, and the Thunder had 11 as a team, the same number as they had defensive rebounds.
Compounding the problem were Denver’s turnovers. While Oklahoma City had just six in the first half, Denver gave up ten turnovers, seven by Murray, Jokic, and Plumlee. These completely stopped Denver’s momentum in the second quarter. Even still, Denver played excellent defense overall, limiting the damage down by turnovers and OKC offensive rebounds, leading 60-52 going into halftime.
The sloppiest stretch of Nuggets basketball began the third quarter. Denver’s offensive possessions to begin the quarter:
- Blocked field goal attempt
- Missed contested three-pointer
- Offensive foul
- Plumlee brick and ensuing foul
The streak was broken by a Jokic pass to Craig for an uncontested dunk, and Denver seemed to get their rhythm back just a little bit. Jokic hit some shots, got to the foul line, and passed his teammates open.
Overall, the Nuggets had some issues containing Paul George that quarter. He finished the third with 22 points, almost entirely on Juancho Hernangomez, which kept the Thunder in this game. Denver led Oklahoma City by just six points, 82-76, at the end of the third quarter.
Denver began the fourth quarter trying to match up with George, but he added a quick four points before exiting to the bench for a quick rest. The game was hanging in the balance a bit, but Monte Morris, Mason Plumlee, Trey Lyles, and Nick Young did well to keep the Thunder at bay. Playing strong defense, attacking in transition, and making timely shots. Even though he fouled out, Plumlee’s energy was game changing in the fourth quarter.
To close the game, Denver went back to the Murray-Jokic two man game, and it worked reasonably well. Denver generated good shots consistently down the stretch, and while Murray wasn’t always the one to hit them, Jokic was the one to dish out some great assists. He had some fantastic setups, but the Nuggets in great position to succeed, and the Nuggets delivered in the clutch.
The game got a little feisty at the end as Murray and Westbrook got into it, but Denver finished on top.
What the Stiffs said to watch:
Spacing on offense
Denver started the game white hot from the perimeter but slowed down considerably as the game went on, finishing 11/34 from behind the arc. They started the game 9/16, so that means they finished the game 2/16. It didn’t end up mattering, but it wasn’t surprising to see this against OKC, the best defensive team in the league, with Denver down three starters.
Torrey Craig vs Russell Westbrook
Craig got the better of Westbrook in this one, and it showed in Westbrook’s chippyness to close the game. Craig limited him to 13 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists on 5/15 from the field, but it was way worse than that. On the other end, the Nuggets wing put up 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists on 6/7 from the field. This was a matchup that Denver had to have, and Craig delivered once again.
Rest for the weary
Denver was sloppy at times, and they struggled to box out Steven Adams, but their energy was never in question. Through the final buzzer, the Nuggets were amped to play this game. The bench was flying around, Torrey Craig and Juancho Hernangomez did their best to match up with OKC’s stars, and Denver used that energy advantage to push themselves over the top.
Conclusion: These wins are found money
The Nuggets shouldn’t be winning these games. They’re currently missing arguably their second, third, and fourth best players, relying on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to bolster the offense and to play solid defense without a DPOY candidate in Millsap. How they are doing this is absurd, but right now, it’s working. Jokic has been incredible, rising to the occasion in every game the Nuggets have missed those players. His performance, along with others stepping up in big moments, should give Nuggets fans confidence that Denver can hold their ground while so many guys are sitting.