When faced with the specter of ending a 12-game winning streak at home against the Bulls, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic said no thank you to that and carried their team to a comeback victory Friday night.
Jokic finished one assist shy of a triple-double, with 34 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists, while Murray scored 31 of his 34 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer to force overtime at the buzzer.
They were able to fight off a great effort by the Bulls, who were lead by Zach LaVine’s 32 points and Otto Porter Jr.’s 22 points off of the bench.
The Nuggets started the game off slow, struggling to find their shot agains the Bulls defense. Meanwhile, the Bulls were able to hit everything, getting contributions from their role players to help take an early lead. Denver wound up shooting just 36 percent in the quarter, and were down 30-20 after the first frame.
They started the second quarter with some more sloppy play, missing jump shots and turning the ball over. The Bulls were more than happy to capitalize on their errors, getting transition buckets and taking advantage of mismatches. MPJ checked back in, and was able to help give the bench a boost with some 3-pointers and midrange jumpers. Once Jokic came back in, he hit a 3-pointer too, helping get Denver back to a two-possession game. The other Porter hit a jumper, and Denver had a few turnovers, which allowed LaVine to hit a floater to put his team up 10.
The Nuggets continued to play at a lackluster level throughout the third quarter. Whether it was failing to make a quick rotation on defense, hustling back in transition, or calling out screens, they weren’t doing the little things that contribute to winning for most of the period. Jamal Murray had nine points in the quarter, and they were able to keep the game within ten points thanks to a flurry by MPJ towards the end of the quarter. The Nuggets energy screamed “we can flip a switch and beat these guys” and they began to run out of time to flip that switch.
The Bulls went on a run in the beginning of the fourth quarter, taking a game they had narrowed to an 8-point deficit and falling behind by 14 with 7:30 left. Coby White got called for a flagrant foul for running underneath MPJ on a 3-point attempt, and Denver got four points out of that possession after a Murray layup. Jokic started giving the business to the Bulls and the referees, but Otto Porter Jr hit a couple contested jumpers to keep pace with the Nuggets.
The Nuggets really ratcheted up the pace and energy, and it lead to a nice run. Jokic got a rebound and long tossed it to MPJ for a dunk to cut the lead to four with 3:30 remaining. A Murray 3-pointer gave the Nuggets a lead at 108-107. Some poor transition defense and letting their foot off the gas ended the run, and two quick field goals by Chicago put them back up by four points. Campazzo came up with a big steal with 27 seconds left, and a Murray basket on the ensuing possession cut the lead to one. They fouled LaVine, who made both freebies, but Murray came up clutch with a corner 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to force overtime.
Denver got the first baskets in the extra period, with Murray tossing in a deep 3-pointer, and then Jokic tipping in Barton’s seventh missed 3-pointer on the evening. Murray worked with his MVP center to get into the midrange, spinning into a fadeaway that he was able to hit. Barton got a huge basket in the paint, fighting through traffic, putting the Nuggets up by nine points. Denver couldn’t figure out how to get good shots on their next couple of possessions, and let LaVine coast into an easy dunk on Campazzo. LaVine scored again on Campazzo, taking advantage of the much smaller player for an easy two points. Barton got whistled for a technical for getting in Arcidiacono’s face, but Jokic made his free throws to keep Denver ahead.
Jokic went god-mode against Thaddeus Young, using every move possible to get separation for a right-handed bank shot. LaVine got to the free throw line again, keeping the Bulls close with a pair of makes. Murray hit a 15-foot baseline one-handed jumper after the Bulls doubled Jokic off the pick and roll, floating into another clutch basket. The Nuggets baited LaVine into a bad possession, with MPJ and Campazzo stymying the Bulls All-Star into a terrible shot at the buzzer that wouldn’t have been worth four points anyways.
Three Things I Saw
The Nuggets defensive communication sucked tonight. There is never going to be a perfect scheme for teams, and good defense can always be defeated by a shot that just goes in, but if the team isn’t going to talk to each other when they’re on the court, they’re always going to struggle. There were too many plays where guys got lost in transition, or crushed on screens, and that points to communication. It isn’t enough to know what to do — you have to add the verbal part as well. Call out screens, talk about assignments, and execute the scheme that you have in place. If the other team still scores, fine, but at least you’re doing your part to make things difficult.
A tale of two games. There was the first game, which started at the opening tip and went until about the six minute mark of the fourth quarter, and the second game, which lasted from then through overtime.
The Nuggets have a point guard that needs to take more shots. The bench got killed tonight, and part of the problem they face is that Facu Campazzo no longer is trying to score the basketball. He had nine total field goal attempts in his previous three games, and he played more than 20 minutes in each of those games. Campazzo got his minutes tonight, but he is just not even attempting to take the ball into the paint or shoot when he catches the ball on the perimeter. I thought that as a veteran guard, he was going to know how to incorporate himself into the offense? Him not even taking wide-open jumpers is a joke — it does not matter how many assists or deflections he gets if he is not willing to shoot. The bench cannot survive if Campazzo is doing nothing on the offensive end.
Maybe it was just such a contrast between Campazzo and Coby White. One is a point guard who only looks to pass, and the other is a point guard that only looks to score. Both of them are flawed players, and need to not be so extreme in their game in order to really help their teams.
One example — late in the fourth, the Bulls were trying a soft double on Jokic. They had a guard looking down at him, trying to move back and forth to distract him and force him to roll baseline to score. The Nuggets can beat that by moving around and cutting on offense, but Campazzo won’t cut into the paint, and that allows his defender to roam off of him and protect the paint. The Nuggets wound up turning the ball over on that possession with Murray throwing a bad overhead pass to Jokic — that’s a situation where Gary Harris would have been able to cut and shoot.
Campazzo did contribute in other ways tonight — the steal on LaVine literally swung the game — but with increased minutes with Monte Morris out, he needs to do more to help the team.
Final thought (bonus!) — The Nuggets won a game they had no business winning. Hopefully this recap doesn’t come across too negative, because a win is a win, but dang they didn’t make things easy. On to New Orleans on Sunday!