The Denver Nuggets came into tonight’s game looking to erase the memory of a disappointing loss two nights before. Their opponent tonight was the Charlotte Hornets, a team that’s some twenty games behind them in the standings. After losing to the lowly Golden State Warriors though, nothing was being taken for granted. The Hornets played a very good game while the Nuggets had some ups and downs but in the end they found the determination to get the win. Jamal Murray hits the game winner and Denver survives a Terry Rozier three attempt at the buzzer to escape Charlotte with a 114-112 win.
Charlotte opened the game strong, Miles Bridges hit his first three shots (two threes) and also had a nice block. Denver meanwhile had yet to shake off the three point shooting blues that plagued them in their last game. Still, they were able to keep within a possession or two early on. The starters got it within two points before the bench came in for Charlotte and pushed back but Michael Malone kept his starters in a little longer and Paul Millsap took advantage, bringing Denver within a bucket again. The Nuggets bench came in and kept pace but there wasn’t a ton in the way of defense, despite Malone going with Torrey Craig over Michael Porter Jr. The final 30 seconds were sort of a microcosm of the entire quarter, Monte Morris made a nice drive to pull within one but then Denver completely lost Devonte Graham on the other end and he buried a floater at the buzzer to give the Hornets a three point lead.
The bench units struggled to get buckets early on in the second quarter. Craig gave Denver some energy and kept the Nuggets within a bucket. That continued to be the story as the game progressed. The Nuggets could get close but just couldn’t catch all the way up. Finally, right before the halfway mark, Jerami Grant made a nice hard drive to the basket to get an and-1 to take the lead. The starters, or at least the starters + Grant, had some success and pushed the lead up but the Hornets three ball was keeping them alive. Denver kept on the pressure, rattling off a 14-3 to get them ahead by as much as seven with the quarter coming to a close. By the time the buzzer sounded Denver had the lead up to nine behind a big second quarter performance.
The second half started slow, Will Barton and Graham traded threes but otherwise there was almost no scoring. Graham eventually got hot for the Hornets while the Nuggets were sloppy with the basketball and couldn’t buy a bucket. Graham got an and-1 to take the lead behind a 14-3 Hornets run to open the quarter. To make matters worse, Jokic picked up his fourth foul with seven minutes to go and had to sit. The Nuggets bench came in and held their own but the Hornets kept the lead. The backcourt carried Denver through with the quarter winding down however Charlotte continued to have the answer and continued to stay ahead by an agonizingly thin margin. After three quarters it was still Hornets by two.
Charlotte had the momentum early in the fourth quarter, quickly pushing the lead to five. Rozier in particular was giving the Nuggets trouble from outside, he knocked down another three to push the lead to eight with just over eight minutes to go. Jokic, Grant and Harris came back in after that which shifted the momentum to Denver’s side. They whittled the lead back down to two before Barton pulled the classic off-the-rear inbounds pass to himself for an easy dunk and a Charlotte timeout. With the game drawing to a close it was still neck and neck, Harris hit a big three at the three minute mark to put Denver back in front by two. It was clear the game was going to come down to the buzzer when just before the final minute Grant failed to convert an and-1 then P.J. Washington had a big dunk on the other end to pull the Hornets within a point. The Nuggets got the ball with a tie game and 30 seconds left and Murray cashed in a tough fade away from the baseline to put Denver up two with five seconds left. Charlotte went to Rozier for the final shot but he could not convert a potential game winning three. Denver escapes Charlotte with a 114-112 win.
Best matchup: Point guards vs point guards
The story of the game was the play of the two backcourts, particularly from the point guards. Rozier and Graham gave the Nuggets fits all night long. The three ball for Rozier really hurt at times. On the Nuggets side it wasn’t the best night for Murray but he still hit several big shots including what would turn out to be the game winner with five seconds to go. Meanwhile Morris was phenomenal off the bench and carried Denver through stretches when Jokic was on the bench with foul trouble. The Nuggets have been searching for an answer to who is going to be the scorer off the bench ever since Barton was moved into the starting lineup, it’s nice to see Monte bring some consistent punch in that role these past few weeks.
Main thing I noticed: the three point battle was lost again
The Nuggets ended up in a game that came right down to the buzzer because it was another rough night at the three point line. Denver was a little better in comparison to the Golden State game at 8-26 from distance but obviously it was not what they strive for. As good as Denver’s guards played they didn’t have a great night shooting the ball and no Michael Porter Jr. left the wings thin on shooting as well. The Hornets had the opposite case for them. Graham and Rozier had big nights and Washington knocked down a few as well. There were several times tonight where a Nuggets run came up just short of taking the lead because of a timely Charlotte three.
Closing thought: a win is a win
Obviously you don’t want the game to be as tight as it was but tip your cap to the Hornets, they played a good game tonight. The Nuggets didn’t have their best stuff by any means yet found a way to win. At this point it would be nice to see some crisper execution and some consistency in the back end of the rotation but the Nuggets desperately needed this one so I’ll take it anyway they can get it. It’s onto Cleveland where the pressure will be just as high to not drop a game they should clearly win.