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Recap: Nuggets cast off early struggles, rally for win over Magic

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The Nuggets came up big in the second half, securing a 91-87 win on the road to improve to 4-2 on the season.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Well, whatever Coach Malone said at halftime worked.

The Nuggets were able to rally from a halftime deficit for a 91-87 win against the Orlando Magic on Saturday, outscoring the Magic by 11 points in the third quarter to power their comeback.

Nikola Jokic had 20 points on 14 field goal attempts, while Jamal Murray joined him in the 20-point club with 22 on 15 attempts, with the two franchise players getting their team back in the win column. Nikola Vucevic had 24 points, and Aaron Gordon had 21, but they weren’t able to get enough help from their teammates in the second half as the Nuggets improved to 4-2 on the season.

Timeline

The Magic scored on their first four possessions before Jonathan Isaac missed a 3-pointer. The Nuggets offense was clicking too, and both teams were quickly in double digits for points. The Nuggets struggled with some turnovers, letting the Magic get some easy transition points. Michael Porter Jr. checked in with about 3:30 left in the quarter, the first sub off the bench in the game for Denver. The Magic finished the quarter with a 26-17 lead, with Nikola Jokic having zero points, rebounds, and assists.

The Magic turned up their effort on defense in the second quarter, forcing several missed shots, turnovers, and getting blocks to keep Denver from scoring. Juancho, who had checked in for MPJ at the end of the first, hit a corner 3-pointer to get the Nuggets over the 20 point threshold. The Nuggets started making their shots, and were able to go on a nice little run, with the Magic having to take a timeout after a Jokic 3-pointer and a Jerami Grant layup.

Steve Clifford, fresh off his defeat at the hands of the Avengers, tried challenging a call against Vucevic, but lost after a review. The Nuggets were able to get to the free throw line a couple times, and after a strong close by the Nuggets, they finished the quarter down just five points to the Magic, although they only scored 40 points in the half.

Jokic started the third quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, then finished a driving layup to cut the deficit to two points. A Murray turnover and a missed floater from Harris helped get the Magic out into transition, leading to a 6-0 run that made Malone call timeout to lower his blood pressure. Millsap had a great stretch, drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt, rotating on defense and soaring for a block, then ... okay, he got totally erased on an iso against Isaac, but it was still a nice little run for the veteran. The Nuggets closed the lead to three points with 6:50 remaining, but the momentum had begun to switch over to their bench.

The Nuggets really got going in the second half of the third quarter, with their defense starting to come together, and the intensity on offense noticeably better. The team was just flying around the court, getting great looks and making things really difficult for the Magic. They were able to get to the rim possession after possession against Mo Bamba, with the sophomore center picking up his sixth foul before the end of the quarter. Michael Porter Jr. had a nice dunk in traffic, and picked up a block (on the aforementioned Bamba) with about two minutes left. The Nuggets easily won that quarter, and finished with a six point 69-63 lead.

Monte Morris had a good run to start the fourth quarter, getting two quick buckets and managing the reserves in his usual efficient manner. Coach Clifford got Vucevic back on the court early, with 8:30 remaining, and the Magic went on a 7-0 run to erase the lead the Nuggets starters had built up. Malone used one of his hockey subs, swapping out four players at once to get all his starters back on the court .

With a one-point lead, the Nuggets absolutely had to execute on offense. They started grinding out possessions, and were absolutely bailed out by Jokic, who hit a 20-foot fadeaway with the shot clock expiring to give them a three point lead.

Evan Fournier was able to make a stepback, but he was just barely inside the arc, so it was only worth two points. Torrey Craig drew an offensive foul on Vucevic for a moving screen on a play that was designed to get Terrence Ross a look for a 3-pointer, and then Jamal Murray drove the lane for a dagger dunk.

Three Takeaways

The Nuggets offense returned. It took a defensive play by Paul Millsap, but the Nuggets remembered what it was like to play fun basketball again. The bench was up, hooting and hollering, encouraging their teammates to get stops. They were sprinting around on offense, driving to the rim for easy buckets and getting to the free throw line. Jokic had a nice second half, with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists, but was much more enthusiastic and gleeful as the team played with more spunk.

Jamal Murray showing signs. Murray had a lot of positive plays, and only a few negative plays. There are moments where he gets a little too “It’s Jamal Murray time,” but he is showing more and more signs that he’s figuring things out. He had a solid game on offense and defense, and had a nice two-man game with Jokic in the third. If he’s able to build from this performance, that would be a big help for the Nuggets.

Get ready for a tough week. The Nuggets really needed this win. They definitely didn’t play up to expectations against the Pelicans, and that loss stung. They were able to rebound from a poor start tonight and rally for the win, which helps with the Heat, 76ers, and Timberwolves on the schedule next week. Those are all teams that are playing well to start the season, and Denver needs to take the positives from tonight and carry them into their next three games. Don’t worry too much about a slow start — there’s no need to change the rotation drastically, change the starting lineup (outside of injury obviously), and definitely no need to change the head coach. Relax. Don’t fret unless they go on a long losing streak and are under .500 around Christmas. We’re not the Kings for crying out loud.