The Denver Nuggets have a history of dominating the Orlando Magic in Denver. In fact, Orlando has only beaten the Nuggets on their home court once this entire decade. The Magic nearly reversed their fortunes after getting out to a big lead in the first half tonight. However, they let the Nuggets go on one of the more epic runs of the season in the third quarter and Denver marched all the way back from a nineteen point deficit. Jamal Murray led the way with thirty-three points and Paul Millsap was clutch on more than one occasion to guide the Nuggets to an improbable 112-104 win.
Nikola Jokic and Murray got things rolling early for the Nuggets on offense. On the Magic side Nikola Vucevic provided the majority of their offense which was enough to keep pace with Denver. They stayed neck and neck with Orlando and had a chance to pull ahead but a pair of Murray turnovers highlighted some sloppy play. Michael Porter Jr. got an early call off the bench and made an immediate impact on the boards while flashing his offensive talent with an effortless but powerful drive to the lane for an easy layup. Porter continued his strong play as the bench checked in but the Magic were able to get a combined effort and match the Nuggets basket for basket. Unfortunately the bench had a rough close to the quarter while Terrence Ross got hot and Orlando had a 32-27 lead after one quarter.
The bench wasn’t much better on the offensive end to start the second quarter but the defense had at least tightened up. Monte Morris finally got the Nuggets going with a bucket and then a steal that led to a Gary Harris three but Orlando remained in front. Denver’s starters checked back in around the midway point of the quarter but they struggled to score as well. With four minutes to go in the half Orlando’s lead grew to nine. The Nuggets seemed to lose all motivation with the quarter winding down, they had several turnovers and played lackluster defense which allowed the Magic to grow their lead to double digits. Denver was lucky that Orlando cooled off a bit to close the half but the Nuggets still trailed by fifteen after the second quarter.
Millsap knocked down a three early in the third but otherwise Denver started the second half much like they ended the first: unable to get anything going offensively. Millsap really was the only one having any success which was likely because he brought the most energy and also because somehow Markelle Fultz kept getting switched onto him. Millsap led the Nuggets on a run near the seven minute mark that was aided by the Magic suddenly going ice cold from the floor. Incredibly, the trend continued for about four minutes while other Nuggets started to find their shot and Denver scored a remarkable twenty-four straight points before Mo Bamba finally got a putback dunk and the Nuggets lead by three. Murray in particular caught fire during the run and he helped stretch the lead even further for the Nuggets. It got all the way to eleven until Murray foolishly fouled D.J. Augustin on a half court heave for three free throws. The Nuggets ended a crazy third quarter up eight.
The Magic found their shooting stroke again to begin the fourth but the Nuggets got strong bench play and kept them in front. Morris hit a three, Malik Beasley hit a three, Mason Plumlee had a classic reverse dunk. Denver got a good effort but Orlando wouldn’t let the lead get above eight. Fultz attacked the basket on more than one occasion while Denver had multiple turnovers and Orlando made a comeback of their own, pulling within two points before Murray finally ended the run with a bucket. The Nuggets kept ahead with the Magic running out of time. Jokic hit a three point Sombor shuffle to put the Nuggets ahead by ten but still the Magic weren’t going away without a fight. They got within seven with a minute to go but lost Gary Harris on an inbound and Jokic of course found him with a full court pass for an easy layup and the dagger. Nuggets win a wild one 113-104.
Best matchup: Jamal Murray vs Markelle Fultz
Murray didn’t have his best night from the three point line but still ended up with a huge scoring output. He was aggressive to the rim which was rewarded with several trips to the line. When he didn’t get fouled he converted inside the three point line at a very healthy 9-10 clip. Meanwhile, Fultz was hyper aggressive to the rim. He definitely doesn’t scare you with his shooting but man when he has a head of steam he’s tough to stop. Obviously Markelle has a long ways to go to live up to being a top overall pick and he wasn’t the most efficient tonight but there’s no denying he’s got some next level skills.
Main thing I noticed: MPJ didn’t play the second half
I’m not sure if it’s just what Malone is doing now with the rotation or if he got frustrated with Porter but after what was a pretty solid and long shift in the first half from MPJ he saw zero minutes in the second half. In his place Malone inserted Beasley who had an uneventful showing outside of one three pointer but played solid on both sides. It could be this is Malone’s best compromise to finding both these guys minutes or it could be something else. It just seems odd to sit a guy who continues to stack points and rebounds in limited minutes. Juancho Hernangomez received a DNP-CD tonight as well so perhaps Malone is still in full tinker mode with the backup wing rotation.
Closing thought: what a crazy game
I was so sure after the first half that my closing thought was going to be a tirade about playing down to the competition but then the third quarter happened. I can’t remember the last time Denver went on something quite like a 24-0 run. Obviously this is not the sort of performance that is repeatable but the Nuggets have to be happy to get the win. Big props to Murray, Jokic and Millsap for leading the surge. Millsap in particular kept the Nuggets afloat and then sparked the big run.