The Denver Nuggets returned home to face the San Antonio Spurs in an attempt to get the bad taste out of their mouthes after the stomping that the Golden State Warriors put on them the night before. This was a huge game in order to avoid slipping down the standings, and the Nuggets seemed to receive that message, loud and clear. They got exactly the kind of win they needed, thanks to a big night from Nikola Jokic (20 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists), and Monte Morris and Malik Beasley combining for 38 points.
The Nuggets started the game off the right way on both ends of the court, with a block from Jamal Murray on Derrick White’s shot attempt, leading to a three by Will Barton on the other end. After another stop, this was followed by a slam by Murray, forcing Gregg Popovich to take a quick timeout after the first minute of action. When we returned from the timeout, we learned that Pop was ejected after two technicals (the fastest ejection in NBA history). Just like that, the Nuggets were up 6-0 and the Spurs were without their head coach. The Spurs’ first field-goal came with a hook shot by LaMarcus Aldridge after more than three minutes had passed. Things got better for the Spurs after that with good play from their guards White and Bryn Forbes. Patty Mills also came in and immediately hit a three-pointer. The Nuggets were able to stay a step ahead, though, thanks to good ball movement and the fact that they were forcing the Spurs to take a lot of jumpshots. However, the second unit came in and, similar to Wednesday night, struggled to score with the exception of a jumpshot from Morris and a rare jumper from Mason Plumlee. The quarter ended with an and-one dunk by Rudy Gay, and the score was 28-24 after the first quarter.
Coach Michael Malone mixed it up with his rotation in this one, as he opted to start the second quarter with two starters in Jokic and Murray, and this immediately paid off as Jokic got a quick floater in the paint and Murray hit a three a minute later. That really opened things up for the Nuggets, as Beasley hit a three to extend their lead to 12. Jokic then went out at the 9:22 mark after picking up his second foul. The Spurs continued to miss shots and in the middle of the quarter, Morris scored nine straight points for the home team, helping the Nuggets to create a 17-point lead. Gary Harris and Barton shot the ball much better than they have recently, and Murray and Jokic came on strong to close the half as the Spurs went cold. The Nuggets finished the half with 22 assists, the most in a half this season, and led 61-43. Aldridge and Jokic led the way for their teams with 12 points each.
The Nuggets started the second half missing their first 5 shots, including three 3-pointers. Thankfully for the Nuggets, the Spurs didn’t come out firing on all cylinders either. Jokic and Paul Millsap decided to attack the basket to get to the line, and they were able to put the Nuggets on the board. Harris soon after hit his first three of the game. DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge stemmed the tide for the Spurs during this period on the offensive end, and Davis Bertans scored 6 consecutive points during one stretch, but this was not enough to overcome their horrid shooting. The Nuggets led after three quarters, 85-62.
Malone took a quick timeout to start in the fourth after the Nuggets looked confused on defense, but they came out of the timeout rolling once again. Jokic came back early in the fourth quarter and after a Beasley three and two Morris threes, the Nuggets extended their lead to 27 points halfway through the 4th quarter. Both teams went deep into their bench after that (giving fans the opportunity for a longer look at Jarred Vanderbilt) and the rest of the game was uneventful with the exception of a monster jam by Beasley. The Nuggets ran away with this one, 113-85.
It was clear in the game against the Warriors last night that an all-bench unit for the Nuggets really struggles to score. Tonight, Malone decided to mix more starters in with the second unit, and this made all the difference for the Nuggets in the second quarter. With Jokic and Murray in the game to draw defenders, Beasley and Morris were able to find their rhythm. Morris was downright fantastic tonight, finishing with 19 points on 8/13 shooting and Beasley broke out of his slump by scoring 19 of his own points on 7/14 shooting. Whether it was the changes to the line-up, the fact that this was a must-win after losing two in a row, or it was just that time when players started coming out of their slumps, it was great to see so many players that have been struggling recently have big games.
Closing Thought: This was a good bounce-back win
This wasn’t a perfect game for the Nuggets by any means, as they too often settled for threes and finished with 14 turnovers. Still, they were able to hold one of the best shooting teams in the league to a field-goal percentage of 38.3% and 18.5% from three, which means that the Nuggets must have been doing something right on the defensive end. There’s still a lot of cleaning up the team has to do to get into playoff shape, but this was a great win to get against a team that the Nuggets may be facing in a 7-game series in a couple of weeks. If the Nuggets can use this game as momentum heading into their final four games of the season, they’ll be in good shape.