The Denver Nuggets are heading down the stretch of the season chasing a playoff spot. In their way stands a seven game road trip and a fiercely competitive Western Conference. First on the road trip though was the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, losers of 19 straight, winners of just 18...and yet somehow the Nuggets found a way to lose. Denver allowed the Grizzlies to amass a huge lead in the first quarter and though the Nuggets would battle all the way back to tie the game, they never led and end up taking the worst loss of the season.
The Nuggets looked fairly sluggish to start and were getting beat handily at the three point line on both ends of the court. A combo of Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans and Dillon Brooks sparked a 9-2 run which left Denver trailing by double digits less than five minutes into the game. Despite a timeout, they came out just as sloppy and disinterested as ever. Nikola Jokic picked up a phantom foul and got benched and the Nuggets remained ice cold on offense. After Denver fumbled away a rebound, JaMychal Green finished a ferocious jam forcing coach to take another timeout. Denver came out of the TO with the bench + Chandler lineup which at the very least was able to stop the bleeding for a couple of minutes, which was the high point of the quarter for the Nuggets. The Grizzlies continued to pour it in, including a nice Evans to Deyonta Davis alley oop. Despite a Trey Lyles three at the buzzer, Denver trailed by seventeen after one.
With authority!#GrindCity— NBA (@NBA) March 18, 2018
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Jokic checked back in to start the half, hoping to spark some life into the team. The Nuggets though seemed content to just chuck threes despite shooting below 20% from the arc at that point. Jamal Murray in particular was struggling on offense, after a nifty move to shake loose for an open three, he missed badly and was 0-6 from the field at that point. Denver started to get a foothold by going to Jokic or Trey Lyles in the post, which kept them trailing by just seventeen. Torrey Craig, who was making his return to the squad, gave strong minutes doing his typical things, slashing, playing tough defense, getting offensive rebounds. Otherwise though Denver was getting nothing from their guards (Will Barton was equally as awful as Murray) so despite the effort of Jokic and Craig, the Nuggets still trailed big. With a minute to go they trailed by 13 and it felt like if they were going to have any hope they needed to close out the quarter and get the lead below double digits. Jokic hit a three, Evans turned it over and Murray finally found life, first nailing a three and then getting an and-one to miraculously trim Memphis’ lead to just 5 at half.
Denver started the second half cold while Brooks was red hot. He led a 9-0 run to put Memphis back ahead by a dozen. The Nuggets got to the free throw line multiple times early in the quarter, though Millsap struggled from there early on. Brooks remained unconscious from three and Murray remained cold though he did have a ferocious slam off a give and go with Jokic. Joker and Millsap did a lot of work from the free throw line to keep Memphis within striking range but the Nuggets weren’t playing good enough defense, particularly on three point shots, to close the gap. In fact the Grizzlies were able to expand their lead back to double digits and once again Denver found them selves in need of a strong close to a quarter to stay alive. Lyles got a three but the Nuggets failed to secure a defensive rebound and Wayne Selden buried a three of his own off the scramble. After three quarters the Nuggets trailed by nine.
Memphis opened the quarter with a couple turnovers and Devin Harris knocked down a couple of threes as the momentum started to shift in Denver’s favor. He kept the pressure on to get the Nuggets within a single point of the Grizzlies. With just under eight to play Lyles finished a huge jam to finally tie the game. The Grizzlies fought back to get their lead to four when the starters checked back in for the final six minutes of the game. Memphis started to go cold from the floor which kept Denver in it as the starters struggled to get points. With about three minutes left Millsap tried to get a foul and tossed the ball at the rim as he was falling, while he didn’t get the call, he did get the bank to bring Denver within 2. Evans responded with a jumper and then Murray had his second bad turnover in about three minutes. The Grizzlies remained ahead by 4. Barton had a terrible moment where he caught an inbounds pass with 4 seconds left on the shot clock and didn’t appear to realize it, forcing an awful attempt that he didn’t even get off in time. He followed that up with a long three attempt that he bricked and the Nuggets still trailed by 4 with 31 seconds to go. Gasol would get fouled and hit both free throws, Murray would miss a three on the other end and it was over.
Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Marc Gasol
Time and again these guys were the steadying forces for their teams. When Denver was bleeding points early in the game it was Jokic who settled them down and got some key buckets. Both Jokic and Gasol went cold through most of the fourth quarter but they also contributed in other areas by tallying up assists. While Gasol may be in the twilight of his career he seems to always be up for the matchup with Jokic. Surely both guys would have liked to palyer better at the end of the game, but overall they still both turned in solid contests.
Main thing I noticed: Good to have TORREY CRAIG!!!!! back
After being gone for nearly a month, Craig returned to the the Nuggets rotation and picked up right where he left off. Though he didn’t score a ton of points and ruined a beautiful behind the back pass from Barton, he also hit a big three in the fourth quarter and had a number of hustle plays. Chris Marlowe announced during the broadcast that Craig should be available to the Nuggets for the rest of the season but won’t be eligible for the playoffs. Nonetheless, having him down the stretch should be a boost for the Nuggets, especially on the defensive end where they desperately need it.
Closing thought: unacceptable
This is the worst loss of the season, make no mistake about it. Throw out all of the other ones, this is the worst. The Nuggets have the toughest stretch of their season in front of them and they have everything on the line and they come out of the gate looking completely disinterested and flat and only started playing once they realized what was happening. No one was prepared for this game to start and thats on everybody, players and coaches alike. Against any other team they probably lose by 30 but because its the Grizzlies, who are doing everything they can to lose, the Nuggets manage to lose by just 7. Just an unbelievable result.