The Denver Nuggets put the smack down on the Chicago Bulls tonight winning ___. Jamal Murray led all scorers with 25 points, hitting 7/11 threes in the process. Nikola Jokic added 18 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds in just 25 minutes, dominating the game even without shooting as efficiently as one would like. Denver needed this win, and they turned things on midway through the second quarter, hitting an extra gear that the Bulls just couldn’t match.
The Nuggets started what has become their normal five players of late in Murray, Beasley, Craig, Millsap, and Jokic. The Bulls countered with Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Chandler Hutchison, Lauri Markkanen, and Bobby Portis. To open the game, Denver looked very lethargic on both ends, lacking focus getting into sets and staying in front of the Bulls defensively. Only Craig seemed to get it on either end, saving the Nuggets with two early three-pointers and a block on Zach LaVine. After a timeout by Malone, the Nuggets immediately went on a 9-0 run, seemingly receiving the message loud and clear. Shots inside for Jokic, a put back dunk by Millsap, and a four-point play from Craig seemed to give the Nuggets their mojo back. Despite that, the Bulls fought back, and Denver’s defense once again left much to be desired. Open threes for Markannen and poor interior defense left Denver vulnerable, and Denver’s shooting dried up a bit, leading to a 30-28 deficit after the first quarter.
To begin the second quarter, Gary Harris made his impact felt on both ends of the floor, playing passing lanes, playmaking in the pick and roll, and hitting a deep three to force a Bulls timeout. It was nice to see Harris play with quickness and agility on both ends, something a hamstring injury could certainly hamper. Both teams went back and forth with two-pointers for awhile, and Jabari Parker in particular gave Trey Lyles some issues, but Denver’s offense stayed on track. When Nikola Jokic came back in the game, he made an impact in the paint, imploring the referees to give him the benefit of the doubt on some questionable calls. After taking an intentional foul, Jokic helped generate offense for himself and others down the stretch, helping the Nuggets go up 14, 61-47, into halftime.
Going into the third quarter, Jokic and Murray got things going in a big way, Jokic dominating inside and Murray hitting a three from the outside.
Markkanen hit another three against Millsap, but Denver’s team defense was solid. Murray started getting it going in the third quarter too, hitting some tough threes off the catch and off the dribble, frankly looking like Damian Lillard or Stephen Curry. Jokic was diming him up, accumulating 11 assists, before sitting down during the blowout. Murray stayed in longer, hit some more threes, and made this game a non-contest early. After three quarters, the score was 103-73 Denver.
Then, lot’s of garbage time ensued, so who cares about that! Denver won 135-105 and the game wasn’t that close.
What the Stiffs said to watch:
Malik Beasley vs Zach LaVine
This really was no contest. Denver did an excellent job of defending LaVine in this game, limiting him to just 8 points and 6 assists on 4/15 from the field. Credit Torrey Craig for most of this, but Jokic did a great job of walling off the paint in front of LaVine as well. Murray and Beasley were solid switching onto the UCLA product, and Gary Harris is always a thorn in LaVine’s side. For whatever reason, Jim Boylen left LaVine in the fourth quarter, probably to get his numbers. Had he not, LaVine’s line would have been even worse.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray staying the course
The efficiency wasn’t there for Jokic, but 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists in three quarters is nothing to scoff at. Jokic struggled finishing in the paint this game for some reason. For whatever reason, he has occasional games where he just doesn’t see the rim well. This was one of those games. Murray on the other hand was lethal from the perimeter, scoring 25 points on 7/11 from behind the arc. Chipping in five assists as well, Murray’s efficiency from downtown is finally starting to round into form. His shooting tonight elevated the overall three-point percentage to 35.1 percent. I would be surprised if it dips below 34 percent again this year. Murray’s feeling himself.
Will the defense recover?
It definitely did. Denver finished with a Defensive Rating of 111.9 in this game, but it would have been better had the Bulls not played garbage time with their two best scorers in LaVine and Markkanen. Jokic and Craig played great defense, and the rest of the Nuggets followed suit.
Another thing that happened: Elite shooting all around
Denver as a team hit 20/40 threes. Murray led the team with seven, while Craig hit four, Millsap hit two, Beasley hit two, Harris hit two, and others contributed as well. Denver is at their best when the jumpers are dropping. Murray is at his best individually when his jumper is dropping. If Denver can get on a row from behind the arc, that will help things going forward.
Closing thoughts: the Bulls are bad
I am amazed how bad the Bulls are. I wasn't ready for this.— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) January 18, 2019
Denver needed this one. It’s been awhile since they dominated a team. They had an opportunity against Phoenix and completely blew that. They couldn’t match the Warriors at their highest gear. Denver needed to beat up on a bad team, and the Bulls got really unlucky being the next team up. Hopefully, Denver can recreate this mojo going forward. They need to go on a big run before the All-Star break if possible, and this was the best possible start.