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Recap: Nuggets get steamrolled by Pistons

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A tough road loss for a team that just can’t get healthy. A 129-103 loss hurts, but the team is on to Brooklyn for a game Wednesday.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets fell behind early to the Pistons, and lost big, being overwhelmed by the Pistons physicality and the fatigue of the regular season.

Mason Plumlee had a double-double for the Nuggets with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Monte Morris had 18 points and 3 assists in front of friends and family that made the drive up from his hometown of Flint. The entire team struggled tonight though, with several shots barely hitting the front of the rim as they were off target all night.

Andre Drummond dominated inside, scoring 14 of his 27 points in the third quarter to go with 12 rebounds in 26 minutes. 13 players saw the court for the Pistons, and the only player to not register an assist was Jon Leuer, who only played three minutes.

Nikola Jokic and Morris got the first couple of points for the Nuggets, while Jokic picked up an assist on a Beasley 3-pointer. Lots of offense for both teams as the starters started out with a nice fast pace. The two teams combined for 50 points in the first five minutes of the game, with the Pistons calling timeout after Beasley’s third 3-pointer of the game. Detroit went on a bit of a run, reclaiming the lead after back-to-back buckets from Langston Galloway. After a Nuggets timeout, the good guys were able to get back in the game thanks to a couple defensive stops and some more scoring by Morris. The Nuggets finished with a two point lead at the end of the first.

The Pistons got a couple stops on defense to start the second, taking the lead again thanks to some playmaking from Luke Kennard. Coach Malone dialed up a post play for Juancho Hernangomez, with the Spaniard able to score over Kennard. The starters came back in the game, and Detroit was able to pull away again due to some turnovers by Denver and the Pistons commitment to getting to the rim. Blake Griffin had a couple nice plays, and the Pistons stretched their lead into double digits. Jokic picked up his third foul trying to prevent Griffin from scoring, and headed back to the locker room with about 30 seconds remaining. Detroit won the quarter 34-19, taking a 68-55 lead into the locker room.

The Nuggets continued to struggle with turnovers to start the third, but the killer B’s (Beasley and Barton) hit some jumpers to start to chip away at the Pistons lead. They were able to get a stop and get Plumlee to the free throw line in transition, but Griffin answered with a 3-pointer to bump the lead back to 15. Jokic picked up his fourth foul with 6:50 remaining, heading to the bench for Trey Lyles. Plumlee had a highlight play in transition, grabbing a defensive rebound and firing a laser beam outlet to Lyles directly under the basket for an easy jam. Andre Drummond took over the game in the tail end of the quarter, dominating the offensive glass and getting points from his hard work. While the reserves showed some fight to close out the quarter, they continued to see the Pistons lead increase as the clock ticked away.

The first points of the fourth quarter came via a post up from Stanley Johnson, who leaned through Morris for a basket. The Pistons continued to pound away at the Nuggets, who finally broke a few minutes into the quarter, with Michael Malone waving the white flag early in the quarter with two more games to go on this road trip. They avoided getting injured by Zaza Pachulia to close out the game, and once the clock mercifully read zero, they had been dealt a 26-point loss.

Three takeaways

The Nuggets depth has finally cracked. With Millsap out, that’s another game where three of the Nuggets starters weren’t available. It seems like that’s the rule of thumb for the Nuggets this season, but while the reserves have done a good job this season, they’ve played over 50 games without a real break, and tonight, well, they ran into a more physical team that pounded them on both ends of the court. The only rotation player on the Pistons team that weighs under 200 pounds is Ish Smith, and he’s one of the fastest players in the league. With Drummond (6-11, 279 lbs.), Griffin (6-10, 250 lbs.), Zaza Pachulia (6-11, 270 lbs.), and even Stanley Johnson (6-7, 245 lbs), the Nuggets weren’t able to match their physicality tonight. It’s unfortunate that they lost, but it’s understandable what happened.

3-point defense. With the Nuggets having to adjust to the size inside, that left 3-point shooters open on the perimeter for the Pistons. Whether it was Langston Galloway, Reggie Bullock, or Johnson, the Pistons were able to get the ball to their shooters whenever they wanted. There were just too many “1-2-3!” chants for the Pistons tonight, and the Nuggets couldn’t keep pace. The Pistons set a new season-high in 3-pointers with 16, so I guess you could say the Nuggets had an off night on that end of the court.

It’s just one game. While it’s nice to win every game — and the Nuggets have done that more often than not — they do have a bit of a cushion as they progress towards the All-Star break. If this was the first Nuggets game you watched this season, you’d be shocked to learn that this team was one of the best teams in the Western Conference. If you’ve been watching all season, you know that this team will be able to bounce back really soon. Nothing to worry about here.

What’s next

Another road game, Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets. See y’all then.