The Denver Nuggets and the Washington Wizards faced off Thursday night for the first time in the 2018-19 season. The Nuggets were looking for their fifth win in a row and seeking to build some momentum as they make one final push to close the season strong and secure home court out West. With Houston hot on their trail and a tough remaining schedule in front of them, wins against teams like Washington are crucial.
Denver’s bench delivered in a 113-108 victory.
The Nuggets found their offensive rhythm early in the opening quarter. The ball flowed through Nikola Jokic, who picked up five points and four assists in just under nine minutes. They received solid offensive contributions from Paul Millsap and Gary Harris was well, but they struggled to contain Washington’s bigs on the other end.
Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis combined for 14 points and six rebounds helping the Wizards to open up an early lead, but Monte Morris took over the final minutes of the quarter. ‘Big Game’ Tae picked up seven points and two assists in just over six minutes as he led the bench to a 17-9 run to close the quarter.
Denver led 33-30 after one.
The story of the second quarter was the strong play of Denver’s backcourt. The starting guards combined for 18 points on 8/13 from the field in what felt like the first time in ages that all three of them played well at the same time.
Harris, who’s been out of rhythm all season as he’s battled injuries, finished the half with a game-high 13 points and made his presence known defensively. He took just two three-pointers as the majority of those 13 points came in the paint and around the rim, clearing a path to the hoop with his shoulders in vintage Harris-fashion.
The Nuggets were able to keep Bradley Beal in check, limiting him to just 8 points in the half, but strong minutes from Portis and Bryant kept them within range of Denver. The Nuggets carried a 61-53 lead into the locker room.
It felt as though the Nuggets were ready to put their foot on Washington’s throats, another strong stint from the starters away from blowing the game wide open. But it was the Wizards who played predator in the third quarter.
Denver had already pushed their lead up to lead up to twelve when Harris had a chance to punch in two more with an easy layup. He missed, which ultimately was the catalyst for a 25-5 run from the Wizards.
Following Harris’ miss, Denver’s offense sputtered as the off-ball movement inexplicably stopped. Four players stood and watched as another chucked up a contested shot, and as is common for this group, the defense suffered as those uninspired jumpers clanged off the rim.
As the lead ballooned, Malone stayed glued to his bench in an apparent teaching moment. The king of the rage-timeout practiced his deep breathing exercises as he allowed his guys to play through it. They never snapped out of their funk, but the second unit cleaned up the mess.
In the final six minutes of the quarter the Nuggets outscored the Wizards 13-10 as the bench ratcheted up the effort on defense. They turned stops into points as they chipped away at the lead, and Morris tied the game at 85 with a pull up jumper in the final seconds.
The bench picked up where they left off in the fourth quarter. Torrey Craig led the way by picking up one steal and five points in less than sixty seconds of game time as the Nuggets regained the lead — a lead that would grow to ten points before Washington began punching back.
Bryant and Beal led a 14-6 run to make it a game in the final minutes. With 1:57 remaining, the Wizards trailed by just four when Barton checked back into the game for Craig. Beal left Barton alone on the wing and the poked the ball loose from an unsuspecting Jokic. He converted the layup on the other end to cut the lead to just two when Michael Malone used a timeout.
But that was as close as Washington would get. The starters closed the door and secured a 113-108 victory on the road.
Following the win, the Nuggets improve to 48-22 on the season. They fly to New York to take on the Knicks in the second game of a back-to-back on Friday night. That game tips off at 5:30 MT.