The Denver Nuggets entered Thursday night’s road game with the Houston Rockets looking to even up the season series at two wins apiece. Doing so would push Houston further down in the standings and virtually secure the tiebreaker over the Rockets given Denver’s conference record. A full strength Houston team was among the few tests these Nuggets had yet to solve.
It remains unsolved after a 112-85 shellacking in the Toyota Center
The first shot of the game was an open corner three for Gary Harris. He sank it. It was the start of a solid opening stretch from the starting unit. The first three baskets for Denver were assisted by Nikola Jokic, book-ended with threes from Harris, who has been searching for his rhythm lately. The early success gave Denver a small cushion, one they held for the duration of the quarter as the Nuggets turned in an excellent performance on the defensive end.
James Harden picked up 7 quick points and 3 assists in his 9:45 on the court, but the rest of the starters combined for just 9 points and the Rockets turned the ball over 5 times. The Nuggets hammered the ball inside on the other end, outscoring Houston 14-8 in the paint, and they took a 25-22 lead into the second quarter.
For as good as the starters were however, the second-unit struggled mightily. Houston’s bench went on a 4-0 run to close the first and it spilled over into the start of the second. The Rockets’ bench opened the quarter on a 12-4 run—Austin Rivers was on fire—retaking and opening up the lead. In the seven minutes that Jokic sat, the Nuggets were outscored by 16.
Jokic checked back in at the seven minute mark but he and the starters were unable to stop the bleeding. Harden dissected them in the pick-and-roll with Capela as his favorite target. They each scored 9 points in the final seven minutes and the Nuggets went cold on the other end. It was a disastrous second quarter for Denver. Houston outscored them 40-19 and carried an 18-point lead into the locker room.
There’s no point in continuing to dissect this one quarter by quarter. Denver’s effort improved in the third quarter but cutting into the lead was ultimately futile. The Rockets lead slowly grew to thirty and they held the Nuggets to just 85 total points, securing the season tiebreaker and moving within three games of the Nuggets in the Western Conference standings.
James Harden finished with 38 points, while Clint Capela added 17 and 15. Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 20 points on 7-for-14 from the field.
The Nuggets will fly to Oklahoma City tonight before they take on the Thunder in the second night of a back-to-back on Friday. That game tips off at 6:00pm MT.