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Recap: Nuggets shoot the lights out on the Heat

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Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets got out to a hot start as they made their first six shots along with seven of their first nine. They had gotten out to a lead early which was important against a Miami Heat team that was coming off of an offensive explosion over the Houston Rockets. They were up 17-14 heading into the first TV timeout. A big key for them was ball movement, as they had five assists on their first seven shots.

After getting out to that big lead, they gave up a long run by the Heat that allowed them to reclaim the lead. With a complete bench unit on the floor for Denver, it was largely an even battle between the two sides. Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant knocked in a pair of 3-point shots to stretch the lead to five. After the shooting struggles those two had shown, that was a positive development to see. At the end of the first quarter, both teams had gone on runs, and the score was 29-28 Denver after a late shot by Grant doesn’t fall.

After the Heat went on a run to get out to a 3-point lead, the Nuggets brought Nikola Jokic back in from an early break, and he had the ball moving well as they quickly tied the game up. After just 15 assists in the game against the Orland Magic, the team had racked up 14 assists midway through the second quarter.

In the final five minutes of the second quarter, the Nuggets started to go on a run, and they were able to get their lead up to six before the Heat were forced to call a timeout. The major key for Denver, aside from their ball movement, was their work on offense. They were shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from 3-point range. The lead ballooned to nine before rookie shooting guard Tyler Herro drove by Jamal Murray for a huge dunk.

After a wild possession that resulted in a Will Barton 3-point shot, the Nuggets stretched their lead down the stretch of the second half to go in leading 58-48. After miserable shooting through the team’s first six games, they ended the first half shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from 3-point range. Murray and Barton combined for 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Jokic was remaining deferential on offense, as he finished with just two points, but he added four rebounds and three assists. His aggressiveness still isn’t there.

Gary Harris suffered an ankle injury late in the second quarter that sidelined him for the remainder of the night with Torrey Craig coming in to replace him starting the second half. After the halftime intermission, the Nuggets had the offense rolling as they maintained their lead. Off of a Paul Millsap rebound, he was driving before he caught a shoulder from Meyers Leonard that knocked him into Justise Winslow and caused a cut on his forehead. He was heading off the floor before he came back to shoot a pair of flagrant free throws before heading to the locker room to get bandaged up.

As soon as he went out, Grant went to work to knock down a 2-point jumper that extended the lead out to 15 which caused a timeout by Miami. Jokic was dealing with foul troubles as he had racked up four in just 13 minutes of floor time. Mason Plumlee came in to replace him which gave them a more athletic center to go after Bam Adebayo.

The Nuggets were down two, essentially three, with Jokic’s foul trouble, starters, and their lead kept growing regardless behind their hot shooting. Barton had registered a double-double midway through the third quarter, and the team kept the ball moving no matter what unit was on the floor. Miami was forced to call another timeout after a 3-point shot by Barton stretched the lead out to 19.

Against their best opponent on the year without multiple starters, the Nuggets got their lead up to 22, which was their only time all season where they got to a lead above 20 points. Throughout the end of the third quarter, the Nuggets consistently stretched their lead by knocking down a 3-point shot every time the Heat would make something inside the arc.

After a small run by the Heat cut into their lead, the Nuggets were able to stretch it back out thanks to an old-fashioned 3-point play by Monte Morris who nailed a floater and the free throw. The Nuggets won the third quarter by 10 points despite minimal contributions from 3/5 of their starters. Their bench was showing up finally after being largely dormant through the first six games.

Coming out in the fourth quarter, the offense was running through Jokic, and they were rolling. They scored six straight points, and they generated two turnovers in the first two minutes. Jokic was also up to nine points on the night. In a perfect example of how the night was going for Miami, Craig turned the ball over, but Jokic got a steal from Goran Dragic before lobbing it up to Craig on an alley-oop.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Heat started going on a little bit of a run, and they were steadily cutting into the Nuggets lead that eventually got down to 19. The Nuggets were trying to run the clock out and get home with a win, but that wasn’t what head coach Michael Malone wanted to see as he called a timeout after Denver committed a bad turnover and failed to get back on defense before they committed a lazy foul. The rule is to never follow up a mistake with another mistake, and the Nuggets were breaking that rule.

Jokic caught the hook from Malone coming out of the timeout, and his night was over. Fans were chanting for Michael Porter Jr. to enter the game, and he got into the game with 3:13 on the clock. This was the first time he had played in a game at home. He showed good hustle in transition as he ran and forced a pair of Heat misses. Juan Hernangomez and Jarred Vanderbilt found some minutes late in the fourth quarter as well. Off of a Hernangomez miss, Porter slammed the miss home for his first points in the building.

Denver ultimately ended the night with a 109-89 victory. This game was a huge momentum-builder for them in a lot of ways. Even though the point total wasn’t overwhelming, this was an offensive explosion for sure. They finished over 50 percent on the night, and, if it weren’t for a few garbage-time misses, they likely would have finished over 40 percent from 3-point range.

Their defense remained stout against a team that had scored 106 or more points in each of their games. They got a little reckless with the ball, as they registered 19 turnovers compared to Miami’s 13. Good teams will take advantage of that, and, on nights when their shot isn’t falling as well, it can be their undoing. Jokic has yet to have his signature game, but the remainder of the team is picking up the slack. The longer he struggles though will lead to more questions.

Stat Leaders

Points: 21 - Jamal Murray

Rebounds: 10 - Will Barton

Assists: 8 - Monte Morris

Player of the Game: Jamal Murray