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Recap: Denver Nuggets roll Houston Rockets for their first win

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets got to work early with their usual recipe of letting Nikola Jokic dominate inside. He grabbed a miss by Michael Porter Jr. and put it back. On the other end, they gave up an easy dunk to Christian Wood following a turnover by Gary Harris. Harris quickly made up for his miscue by converting an alley-oop to stretch the lead back to three. A hail of whistles were being called, as the Houston Rockets were called for four fouls during the Nuggets’ first four possessions.

Following a timeout by the Rockets, the Nuggets forced a miss before Jokic backed into the paint for an easy bucket. Not to be outdone, Wood nailed a pull-up 3-point shot on the other end. Following a miss by Harris, Wood knocked down another to cut the Nuggets’ lead to two before Jokic stopped the run with a layup. Wood made another one to start the game 4-of-4 with the first 11 points for the team. Gary cut to the basket for a layup, but the two sides were trading baskets.

Jokic got a mismatch with P.J. Tucker on him, but he was called for an offensive foul. Luckily, the Rockets failed to make them pay. Jamal Murray missed on the other end, and Harris was called for a reach-in foul that would send Wood to the line. Wood went 1-of-2 at the line to tie the game, and Denver was looking to rebuild that lead. They started things with a triple by Harris before Tucker immediately knocked one down. Porter knocked down a pull-up jumper from way downtown, and the Nuggets were starting to roll.

James Harden blew past Paul Millsap for an easy layup and his first basket which prompted a timeout from Michael Malone. Following the timeout, Millsap turned the ball over which led to an easy 3-point shot for Harden before Will Barton stopped the bleeding to tie the game at 22. After forcing a miss, the Nuggets failed to secure the rebound and gave up an easy layup to Wood. After another Denver miss, Harden attacked the basket and drew his first trip to the foul line of the night where he made both.

Monte Morris knocked down the technical-foul shot, and the Nuggets then converted a steal into an easy dunk for Barton. Following a miss by Houston, Jokic was set up with an easy layup that he turned into the team lead. Just to add on to it, he knocked down a wide-open 3-point shot to stretch the lead to four. Coming out of the timeout, Denver nearly forced a turnover, but, after forcing a miss, P.J. Dozier turned it over anyway.

Following turnovers and missed by each side, Isaiah Hartenstein got the scoring going again with an easy layup to stretch the lead to six with about 60 seconds remaining. He got a steal on the other end of the floor on the next possession and drew a foul to go to the line. After going 1-of-2, Hartenstein won a jump ball before being fouled on a putback attempt. He went 1-of-2 at the line again, and the Rockets turned the ball over with 7.0 seconds remaining. Off the inbounds pass, Murray was fouled on a super-deep shot that sent him to the line where he went 2-of-3 to take an 11-point lead heading into the second quarter.

The Rockets came out aggressive in the second quarter with Brodric Thomas getting to the line where he went 1-of-2. Hartenstein got to the line himself on the other end, and he was able to knock down 1-of-2 attempts again. Murray got the rebound and converted a 3-point shot to further stretch the lead. Barton converted a layup that gave them an 18-1 run that was not stopping. The Nuggets gave up several offensive rebounds in one possession, but they eventually secured the final board to end it.

Harden found Jayson Tate for a triple that stopped the Nuggets’ run to keep the Rockets in the game. Harden then nailed a layup that brought them within 11 and forced Malone to take a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the two sides traded misses before Jokic put an easy putback layup into the cup. Following a miss by Denver, Wood converted a big dunk that brought Houston within nine prior to Barton putting it back to double digits. Jokic found Murray in the corner for a stepback triple that put them up by 14.

Following a bad miss by Houston, Denver got an offensive rebound that turned into an easy basket for Jokic. After a timeout by Houston, Harden drew a foul on Porter which resulted in a 4-point play. Millsap drew a jump-ball foul on Wood, but he was unable to win. Harden made the Nuggets pay with another 3-point shot that brought them back within nine. Millsap missed a triple attempt of his own, and Harden drew a foul when he went sprinting towards the basket with a head of steam. As usual, he made them pay by knocking down both shots at the stripe.

Jokic found Porter with a beautiful cross-court pass for a 3-point shot, but the Rockets got it right back with an easy layup. With 4:30 remaining, Jokic found Millsap under the basket for an easy layup to stretch the lead back to 10. The two sides traded makes, but the Nuggets were still up by double digits with Jokic cooking against this undersized Rockets’ roster. Following a make by Jokic, the Rockets committed a shot-clock violation, and Millsap threw down a dunk to get the lead back up to 15 with about 2:30 remaining.

Murray gave up an easy bucket to Sterling Brown, but he got the points back with a shot of his own. Denver allowed an easy basket to Harden, and he then drew a questionable foul on Porter on a 3-point attempt. He knocked down all three free-throw attempts to bring them within 10. Murray got into his bag of tricks, and they were up by 12 with 45 seconds to go before Harden nailed another triple. Murray didn’t care with a triple of his own. With under five seconds remaining, Harden converted an easy layup to bring them within 10. Murray drew a foul of his own with 1.7 seconds remaining, and he missed both attempts to send them into halftime with a 70-60 lead.

Coming out of the half, Denver went right after Harden, and they were ready to make someone else beat them. That didn’t work on the first possession with a triple from Tucker. On the other end, Jokic found Harris in the corner for a 3-point shot of his own. The two sides traded misses before David Nwaba bowled over Murray for a layup that brought them within seven. Millsap was fouled on the other end, and he was able to knock down both of his free-throw attempts.

Following a block by Denver, Jokic found Millsap in transition for a 3-point shot that gave them a brief 12-point lead before they were matched by Tucker. Millsap was displaying his activity consistently by finding openings under the basket for easy layups off of feeds by Jokic. Denver double-teamed Harden to force a miss, but they did nothing with it before trading turnovers.

Following a turnover by Harden, Denver found Murray on the left wing where Murray knocked down another 3-point shot. Danuel House missed a mid-range shot, and Porter was able to get a layup which forced another Houston timeout. After that timeout, the two sides traded multiple turnovers before an easy dunk by House caused a frustration timeout to come out of Malone.

Murray drew a foul out of the timeout, and he was able to convert 1-of-2 of his free throws after missing a pair to end the half. On the other end, Harden made a deep 3-point shot to keep the Rockets close. Following a miss by Porter, Harden went to the rim where he converted a layup while drawing a foul on Millsap before converting the 3-point play. Flexing his own muscle, Porter knocked down a shot in the paint through some contact, and he was unable to convert the 3-point play.

He overhelped on defense, and it led to an easy dunk for Houston, but the team’s offense was bailing him out with another triple by Millsap to go up by 11. A make by Harris gave them a 13-point lead with under five minutes remaining. The two sides traded misses before a shot to the head of Murray from Tate sent him to the floor for a few minutes before he was able to walk off under his own power. Following that stoppage in play, Jokic drew a reach-in foul as he looked to take over the game for his team. He went to the line where he was able to knock down 1-of-2 attempts to give the team a 14-point lead before a layup by Houston cut it to 12.

Harris converted a shot of it’s own as the Nuggets were looking to get everyone involved on offense as Jokic had 13 assists with over 3:00 remaining in the third quarter. Millsap converted a shot, but he couldn’t complete the 3-point play at the line. Up by 18, Jokic found Barton for a triple in the corner to go up by 21. He also grabbed his 10th rebound of the game to give him a triple-double with a full quarter yet to play.

Following misses by P.J. Dozier and House, Dozier was fouled driving to the basket before making 1-of-2 of his free throws. Down by 22, Houston converted a shot at the rim from Bruno Caboclo that brought them within 20 with just over 1:00 remaining. Monte Morris followed it up with a pull-up triple as Denver was starting to distance themselves. Harris got a steal off of a deflection which gave Denver one last possession near the end of the quarter. Harris was forced to heave up a 3-point shot which missed everything before House missed a triple of his own.

Denver led 106-83 heading into the final quarter as Murray returned to the bench and looked ready to come back into the game. The two sides traded misses to start the quarter, and Denver was looking to salt the game away over the final 12 minutes to earn their first win of the season. Morris got the scoring going after multiple misses with a layup, and the bench unit was continuing to play athletic and aggressive basketball in this game.

A foul by Hartenstein extended a possession for Houston, and Wood was sent to the floor clutching his knee after knocking with Isaiah before getting up following a turnover by the Rockets. Hartenstein airballed a mid-range floater, but the Rockets’ second unit was unable to make him pay with no consistent offensive threat. After Denver missed multiple opportunities to score, the Rockets drove right to the cup for a dunk and forced a timeout from Malone.

Out of the timeout, Hartenstein fouled Wood while driving to the basket, and Houston made them pay as they drew within 20. The two sides traded misses before House was fouled on a dunk attempt by Hartenstein. He made 1-of-2 attempts at the line, and the Nuggets found Porter in transition for a layup that put them up by 21 before Brown nailed a 3-point shot. After a make by Barton, Denver took a shot in transition and Jokic found Dozier under the basket for another easy layup. With just over 6:00 remaining, Denver was slowly putting this game away.

Morris nailed a layup, and the two sides were trading misses before a Barton make gave Jokic a career-high 18 assists before he went to the bench. The game was getting very out of hand with Denver up by 23 with under 5:00 remaining, and Bol Bol had entered the game along with Facundo Campazzo. With both sides pulling their starters, the only thing left to do was run out the clock. Denver also got rookie R.J. Hampton into the game to get him some late minutes to get up to NBA speeds.

Bol was playing aggressively to get shots up, but he wasn’t getting anything to fall. Another rookie, Zeke Nnaji, also got some playing time late in the game. The bench was fully emptied with Vlatko Cancar in with under 3:00 remaining. Campazzo got some points rolling late, but there wasn’t anything serious to take out of this game at this stage. Thanks to some garbage time baskets the final score of the game ended up being closer than it was with Houston ultimately losing 124-111 which gave Denver their first win of the season while dropping the Rockets to 0-2

Stat Leaders

Points: Jamal Murray - 21

Assists: Nikola Jokic - 18

Rebounds: Jokic - 11

Player of the Game: Nikola Jokic 19 points, 18 assists, 11 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block, 8-of-11 shooting, 1-of-1 3-point, 2-of-3 free throws