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Recap: Nuggets explode for season-high in win against Grizzlies

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Jamal Murray had a season-high for the team with 39 points, and the Nuggets get right against the Grizzlies in a nice road win on Sunday evening.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

On the first possession of the game for the Grizzlies, Jamal Murray forced his way past Ja Morant, deflecting the ball along the sideline, chasing it down, and going down the court for a basket.

It was going to be that kind of night for the Nuggets, with their point guard setting the tone from the opening tip for a big road win. Murray finished with a season-high 39 points in 31 minutes, along with 8 assists, 3 steals, and zero turnovers (keep reading to see the significance of that stat line). Paul Millsap had 23 points, but the difference maker tonight outside of Murray was Juancho Hernangomez, who came off the bench and knocked in 15 points.

The Grizzlies looked lethargic for most of the game, seemingly worn out after their big win in the previous game against Mike Conley Jr. and the Utah Jazz. The Nuggets certainly took advantage.

Jamal Murray got off to a nice start, scoring the first nine points of the game for the Nuggets. While the Nuggets ran out to a 9-2 lead, they gave up an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to let the Grizzlies even the score. The Grizzlies continued to hammer the Nuggets, and the starters played too soft on offense to retaliate, and before you knew it, it was 23-12 Grizzlies. Mason Plumlee checked in to give the Nuggets some energy, and they were able to go on a run of their own. Murray continued to cook, getting to the free throw line, but the defense wasn’t able to get stops to close out the first quarter. The Nuggets finished the quarter down by four, 32-28.

The Nuggets started the second quarter with a lineup of Monte Morris, Juancho Hernangomez, Michael Porter Jr., Jerami Grant, and Mason Plumlee. Jonas Valanciunas came back out for the Grizzlies, and was able to manufacture some buckets against Plumlee. The Nuggets were able to use their defense on defense to force some turnovers, and after a Plumlee steal combined with a Morris layup, the score was tied up at 36. Juancho was able to knock in a 3-pointer, and MPJ had two blocks to help trigger fastbreak opportunities, and the Nuggets were able to stretch the lead out to six points. The starters came back on the court, but that didn’t stop their momentum, and the ball started popping! The Nuggets went on an insane run — remember, this game was tied at 38 — to finish the quarter up by 23 points.

The Nuggets came out of the locker room and the starters were able to pad the lead slightly, but while the reserves scored by attacking the rim, the starters attacked by moving the ball around the court with crisp passes. Harris got a couple buckets, and Millsap jumped so high he couldn’t land cleanly on a dunk. The Grizzlies defense was letting Murray get some easy looks, and he capitalized, scoring 13 points in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Nuggets were just letting Jaren Jackson Jr. (he’s really good) shoot wide-open 3-pointers too, and that helped the Grizzlies score 31 points in the third quarter. It didn’t matter though, because the Nuggets out-scored them by five to reach the 100 point plateau before the fourth quarter even started.

The fourth quarter was kind of an ugly 12 minute stretch of basketball, with both teams emptying their benches. MPJ wasn’t able to get any points for the game, but Juancho Hernangomez looked like the best player on the court. The Spaniard was clutch time after time, scoring from the 3-point line and getting the ball moving to keep the offense clicking. The defense wasn’t particularly great in this quarter, but it didn’t really need to be. The Grizzlies won the quarter, but the Nuggets won the game, finishing with a final score of 131-114.

Three things I noticed

The second unit was awesome. I don’t have the numbers, but just from an eye test, the second unit of Morris-MPJ-Juancho-Grant-Plumlee was great, and if they are able to play like that against playoff-caliber teams, we may see Beasley and Craig out of the rotation. This lineup has so much length, and creates mismatches for teams on the perimeter. A really good pair of guards could chew this lineup up, with MPJ still looking like he’s overthinking things on defense and struggling to rotate correctly. But they can rebound, they’re going to space the court, and they’re going to make smart plays. It makes a difference to have a couple guys out there with really high basketball IQ (Plumlee, Morris, Hernangomez), a tough-shot maker in Porter Jr., and a guy that can guard all five positions in Grant. I liked it.

Murray was spicy. Murray had the Midas touch tonight, with a box score line that will make you drool. No player in NBA history has ever had 39 points, 8 assists, and zero turnovers in a game before tonight, when Murray did it, according to Basketball Reference. He had the 3-point shot falling, was dealing the ball to his teammates for open shots, and had a couple steals. His steal on the first possession of the game set the tone for the rest of the game, and whenever he was on the court, he knew his team had a really good shot at getting points. One of the best games of his career, hands down.

Edit - thanks to Ryan Blackburn, who noticed I messed up my search. This has been done before, and the last time it happened was exactly one year ago, when Anthony Davis did it in a game against the Denver Nuggets.

Jokic needs to get to the rim. Prior to tonight, only 18 percent of Jokic’s shots are coming at the rim. He’s too content to camp out in the midrange and lob jumpers over his defender. That’s the shot the defense wants from the Nuggets offense! In the first quarter, Jokic wasn’t playing with that attitude of wanting to get to the rim. In the third quarter, he was more decisive, playing with more of that drive to make things happen, and the offense exploded. He didn’t attempt a single free throw in the game, but it didn’t matter, because he was able to create scoring opportunities going to the rim. We know that Murray is going to be able to get him the ball on the roll, with Jokic’s mass en route to the rim. It’s on Jokic now to make it happen and force the issue. There was a lot of good that came from it — let’s see it again on Tuesday against the Houston Rockets.