The Denver Nuggets, paced by huge outings from Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr, built a 20 point halftime lead and cruised from there to a victory over the Houston Rockets. Nikola Jokic scored 29 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists, and was three straight missed layups by his teammates from getting another triple double in just 3 quarters played. Michael Porter Jr. added 21 / 5 / 5 on just 13 shots, and the bench poured in 40+ to help make up for Monte Morris, who left early in the second half with what is hopefully a minor hamstring issue. The Rockets got 20+ from both Kelly Olynyk and Jae’Sean Tate, but it was not nearly enough for Houston.
Christian Wood scored the first points of the game from the free throw line, answered by Jokic off an MPJ feed inside. Michael Porter Jr. buried a 12-footer and Jokic finished in the paint. Barton missed a 3 but got to the rim for a pair of free throws and the 8-5 early Nuggets lead. There were some transition scraps but Gordon buried a fast break dunk, MPJ buried a three, and Jokic cleaned up a transition miss from Monte Morris. MPJ swished another three for the 18-7 lead as Denver cleaned the boards and made their shots.
It's best to get out of the way pic.twitter.com/kyYMOEy5Ub— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 17, 2021
The Rockets took a timeout and came out with more energy and scoring, but Jokic got back to work, annoyed about some contact that was not called. Denver kept the lead at 8-10 for most of the quarter, but the bench missed some threes and Houston made a couple to close it to 27-23 Denver. Jokic went to the bench then and MPJ came back in, with Paul Millsap getting a pair of buckets and Porter swishing another 3. Houston kept their offense humming with another 3, though, and a bad PJ Dozier miss was made up for by Facu Campazzo’s steal from John Wall for some free throws, leaving Denver up 35-28 after 1.
Dozier finished his first layup of the quarter, then another steal by Denver led to a clear path opportunity for MPJ. PJ’s missed shots made it hard for Denver to stretch the lead much until Millsap’s bank at the 9 minute mark put Denver up 12 briefly, and he got another bucket against Kevin Porter Jr, attacking Houston’s reserves. JaMychael Green got his first points dunking a missed three, and Denver stretched its lead to 14. Denver and Houston traded buckets for a couple of minutes, but MPJ and Joker both hit shots and then the Porter dunk got Denver to 60 with 2 minutes to go in the quarter. And then Jokic did this as Denver finished the half up 69-49:
We are blessed to watch this man play basketball. pic.twitter.com/RVBogdplFa— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 17, 2021
Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr.’s combined stats at halftime:— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) April 17, 2021
13-17 shooting from the field
3-5 from three (all from Porter)
12 rebounds (9 for Jokic)
5 assists (4 for Jokic)
Pretty dang good.
The Nuggets were sloppy in the first minute of the second half, with Houston making buckets - including a pair of threes - and playing with energy. Monte Morris got to the free throw stripe and helped calm the energy, and MPJ followed his lead. Houston kept up its scoring however and Denver called a timeout up 14. Monte Morris got pulled off the court for unspecified reasons and was replaced by Facu, who did the smart thing and got the ball to Jokic. Facu then made a three, but his was a rarity as Denver’s three point shots would not fall. Will Barton fixed that problem with a huge dunk going right down the paint to get the lead back to 20+. Kelly Olynyk made a shot, MPJ and Christian Wood exchanged threes, but Jokic took control back with an amazing back cut pass followed by a deep three. Campazzo hit a three of his own after assisting Jokic’s, but Denver blew three Jokic assists on layups in a row. Dozier finally finished his own drive in the paint to get to 100 points, and Denver finished the quarter up 21.
The two squads traded buckets to start the 4th with Jokic on the bench and MPJ out with the bench. Denver scored only 4 points in the first 3 minutes, but Green and Millsap banged inside for some points as they tried to exert themselves on the glass. Barton smashed home another dunk after a Millsap save, and Green got into double figures with another bank shot off the baseline. Denver stretched the lead to 24 with a Barton-to-Gordon pass after MPJ was pulled, and Dozier made a three to make it 27 with 6 minutes to go. Denver cruised from there as most of the quarter was garbage time - exactly what the Nuggets wanted. All Bol Bol minutes are good minutes, as it means the Nuggets are celebrating a well-earned victory.
There are still many ways for this squad to win. The Nuggets went 4-for-17 from 3 in the first half with just 10 assists on 26 made field goals, and Denver was still up 20 at halftime. They hit the boards with ferocity, racked up steals, got out on fast breaks and generally made the game easier despite poor shooting from deep. Denver’s backup bigs played hard and kept Denver’s scoring up throughout the game, and the Nuggets made sure Jokic didn’t have to come back into the game for the 4th. These are good steps.
Point guard play will matter down the stretch. It’s hard to nitpick the bench when they made sure Jokic could safely sit the whole fourth quarter. Still, the bench is not used to playing with MPJ, but the point guards Dozier and Campazzo have to look for him. There were several occasions where they chose to call their own numbers over giving the ball to the best scorer on the floor, and that can’t be a theme. The reason for MPJ to be out there with the bench is to keep their scoring up, whether as a decoy to open the floor or more crucially as a sniper - but for him to open the floor up he has to have the ball at some point. It need to be a point of emphasis.
Millsap and Green worked hard in the paint for rebounds and points, but those were not assisted buckets either. 1-on-1 is not a good long term bench solution, but if it is going to be a path - especially if Monte Morris misses any time with what was termed a hamstring issue during the game - then getting the ball to the best scorer has to be part of the goal.
Jokic is still the MVP. We’re not taking any questions on that at this time, as it should be self-evident.