The Denver Nuggets won a game that they had no business winning, prevailing over the Memphis Grizzlies on the road by a score of 95-92.
Despite being down by 25 points in the second half, the Nuggets defense stepped up in the fourth quarter, and they finally found their offense in the final ten minutes of the game, with key reserve Malik Beasley stepping up in a big way to help deliver the Nuggets 34th win of the season.
The Nuggets got off to a slow start, with Jokic not getting involved in the offense while the spacing and flow were off. The Grizzlies jumped out to a 13-2 lead before Michael Malone called timeout, perhaps to ask his players to do more on both ends of the court. After the timeout, Jokic turned the ball over and Marc Gasol hit a three. Gasol hit a midrange jumper on the next possession, making it six field goals in a row for Memphis. The Nuggets responded with a run, getting a turnover and an offensive rebound to reach double digit points. The Nuggets super-sub Mason Plumlee checked in, and Jaren Jackson Jr. responded to his new defender by slipping a screen for a wide open dunk. then blocking Plumlee on the other end. Gasol canned a triple, which Jokic responded to with one of his own, and the Grizzlies called timeout up 23-14. The Grizzlies continued to punch the Nuggets - hard - in the mouth, doubling up their lead in a matter of minutes. The bench checked in, but they couldn’t get buckets either, and they finished the quarter down by 14 points.
The Grizzlies kept their foot on the neck of the tiger to start the second quarter. The Nuggets would have found trouble if Bruno Caboclo hadn’t started launching stepback threes, but once Mike Conley Jr. checked back in, and the Trey Lyles jumpers didn’t fall, the Grizzlies were able to increase their lead up to 18 points before the Nuggets were forced to call timeout. Monte Morris bailed out an ugly possession by catching a loose ball and knocking in a midrange jumper. The Nuggets first fastbreak points came with just over four minutes remaining in the second, as they struggled to get defensive stops and convert them into points in the first half. The Nuggets called timeout after Joakim Noah schooled Jokic on defense, then raced down the floor as Kyle Anderson made the transition layup, but they committed another turnover after a timeout and Malone pulled out another handful of hair from his head. Gasol got to the free throw line, knocking in his 21st point of the game, and the Nuggets looked in trouble. Jokic responded with a dunk (dunk!!!) in transition, and Millsap countered by goaltending a Conley floater with four seconds left to make the score 60-41 at halftime.
Talk about an embarrassing half of basketball. This was one of their worst halves of basketball this season, with Jokic playing with little energy, the defense nonexistent, and the offense not forcing the issue on the Grizzlies. Memphis has bullied Denver into playing scared, and there was a serious need for halftime adjustments.
The third quarter started with an offensive foul and a technical issued to Michael Malone. But despite the mistakes, the Nuggets were playing with a little more fire. That fire translated into three points in the first four minutes, but they only gave up five points to the Grizzlies over the same span. Memphis played a nearly perfect defensive possession, with Gasol blocking a tough floater from Harris, and the transition opportunity ended with Conley knocking in a triple to go up by 25 points. Millsap got his first two points of the game in the quarter, knocking in a pair of free throws after nearly getting blocked by Caboclo. The Nuggets just kept chucking shots at the rim, but continued to take bad shots, contested shots, and turning the ball over. Jokic had a stretch where he took over the game, but the flow of the game was snapped after Plumlee clobbered Caboclo and was called for a flagrant foul. Jokic was called for an offensive foul that was definitely not an offensive foul, but Morris was able to flip in a runner to cut the deficit to 17 points. That’s how many points the Nuggets would be down by at the end of the quarter, with a score of 77-60.
Malik Beasley scored back-to-back buckets to start the fourth quarter, connecting from long range, and the Grizzlies called timeout to discuss how to keep their lead in double digits and confirm dinner reservations. Joakim Noah got a dunk after a turnover, but then Plumlee got a reverse dunk off a nice pass from Beasley. They forced a miss, and Barton brought them within 12 with a layup. Conley was fouled on a 3-pointer, but he only made 2 of 3 to keep things relatively close. Millsap fumbled a pass out of bounds, and after a Grizzlies timeout, Memphis tightened up on defense and made things really tough for Denver.
The Nuggets reeled off a quick 9-0 run keyed by Malik Beasley, and in the blink of an eye, it was 85-81 Memphis with 2:50 left in the game. Gasol scored in the paint after the Grizzlies called timeout, their first field goal in nearly seven minutes. Jokic got a bucket, and they were able to clean up a miss from Kyle Anderson, with Gary Harris making another basket to cut the lead to two points. Beasley missed a triple, but Harris grabbed the offensive rebound, and Beasley cashed in on his second opportunity despite a heavy contest. Conley dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds, and then Barton knocked in a triple to give the Nuggets a lead off an assist from Beasley, who drew the defense in off a drive and kicked out to the left wing.
Justin Holiday made a 3-pointer after a Grizzlies timeout, taking advantage of Gary Harris falling down while guarding Mike Conley on-ball at the top of the arc. Nikola Jokic went full-on gladiator on the next possession, doing battle with Gasol to get space to get a shot off in the paint that bounced around and fell in with 28 seconds left to give Denver a 93-92 lead. The Grizzlies had a chance to score, but Kyle Anderson missed two shots, getting a couple offensive rebounds but stepping out of bounds following his last one of that series.
Three things we noticed
WOW. What a comeback. I’m sure most fans figured this thing was over once the Nuggets went down 79-60 to start the fourth quarter — I know I did. But I’ll gladly eat crow with a side of NUGGETS BIGGEST COMEBACK VICTORY IN DECADES. Malik Beasley was incredible, knocking down tough shots in a game where the first 36 minutes had seen a ton of bricked shots. He put the team on his back and carried them to a win. The Nuggets didn’t win a single quarter, and only lead this game for — get this — 34 seconds. That’s a great win for a team that looked completely defeated at several points in this game.
First quarter defense. The Nuggets start off games slow nearly every game. It’s almost as if they just don’t have a good complimentary combination of players on the court to start the game. They were bad on defense and worse on offense. The Grizzlies were content to run up the score early, then grind out the game by playing tough defense the remainder of the game. Hopefully it’s something they are able to figure out.
The fun times are just beginning. The Nuggets play the Pelicans on Wednesday, who are dealing with trade rumors of their own now with Anthony Davis. Then after hosting the Rockets, it’s back out on the road for four games. The Nuggets have a small lead over the Thunder and Trail Blazers for first in the division, and they need to get a win over New Orleans if they want to make sure that they hold onto that top spot going into the All-Star break. With a win like this in the bank, hopefully they’ll pick up another victory over the Pelicans, then finally find a way to beat James Harden.
Share your victory gifs in the comments below! Tag your friends that went to bed early!