Nikola Jokic lead the team in scoring with 21 points, but the team sorely missed Gary Harris, who missed the game with a shin injury, as James Harden finished with 35 points.
The Nuggets were able to get a couple of buckets to start the game, getting into the paint for some easy buckets. Clint Capela picked up his first dunk off a lob from PJ Tucker, and James Harden was able to get into the paint and “earn” some free throws. Millsap and Murray swished their first 3-point attempts, and the two teams stayed close after the opening tip. After the first timeout, the Rockets were able to go on a run thanks to Jamal Murray taking the bait on a Harden dribble move, fouling him on a 3-point shot that went in, while Danuel House was able to push off against Jokic and hit a 3-pointer of his own. The referees called a bogus technical foul on Wes Unseld Jr for audibly protesting a defensive 3-second call, and then Eric Gordon hit a 3-pointer to stretch the Rockets lead to nine points. Westbrook took over the game over the final 60 seconds of the quarter, teleporting past Malik Beasley for a layup, then finding Ben McLemore for a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer. The Rockets would take a 38-26 lead over the Nuggets after that McLemore basket, taking advantage of a 20-11 run to claim an early lead.
The Nuggets gave the ball away on their first possession of the second quarter, then gave up a 3-pointer, triggering Malone into a justifiable rage timeout. Both teams struggled to score for a spell, but Monte Morris broke that with a nice fake and drive to the rim. Michael Porter Jr was able to get some baskets, but the rest of the team struggled to score and they couldn’t get the lead below 10 points. There was a weird sequence when the Nuggets had the ball, but it wound up in Morris’s hands for a 3-pointer. Things got really rough and tumble after that, with both teams’ starters checking in. Millsap was tackled (no foul), Murray was stripped on a transition drive (no foul), and Jokic started whipping passes out of bounds (very foul). The Nuggets had a possession with four missed shots, and it seemed like they couldn’t make up any ground against James Harden, who continued to get to the free throw line. Morris cheated too far into the paint on the final possession of the quarter, and Danuel House hit another 3-pointer to put the Rockets up 69-52 after the first two quarters.
The Nuggets came out with a much better intensity to start the third quarter, attacking the rim and going on a small run to narrow the Rockets lead. Harden tweaked his ankle on a drive, but stayed in the game, throwing a full-court pass to Capela a minute or so later. Jokic was able to post up for a couple points, spinning his way into open shots. He stayed on fire, knocking down a midrange jumper immediately after a timeout. Unfortunately, he had back-to-back turnovers, but he did try to make up for them with a nice pass to Barton, who drove and finished to cut the lead to eight points. The bench checked in, and to be frank, kicked some ass to close out the quarter. Beasley had a couple big buckets, including a dandy of a sidestep 3-pointer near the buzzer, and the Nuggets won the third quarter 37-23, cutting the Rockets lead to only three points.
In the blink of an eye, the Rockets reeled off a 9-0 run to start the fourth, with Harden and Westbrook back on the court to try to put the game away early. The Rockets were able to win a challenge, with Harden being awarded a block against Plumlee. Murray airballed a couple shots, the offense couldn’t make shots, the defense couldn’t get stops, and this game was over after a 21-5 run over the first six minutes. I guess that’s what happens when you play Craig-Grant-Plumlee for an extended period of time against elite offensive players and a team that likes to play small.