Nikola Jokic continued his MVP season with a 27 point, 11 assist, 8 rebound performance in 26 minutes. Michael Porter Jr. chipped in 25 points, with Will Barton adding 24 points, as the team set a new season-high for total points.
The Pistons got 29 points from former Nugget Jerami Grant, but he was quiet for most of the game outside the first quarter once Aaron Gordon decided he wasn’t going to let him take easy shots anymore. Saddiq Bey hit 6 of 12 3-point attempts for 25 points, but they were the only players to have success on offense for Detroit on a night when they were lapped by the Nuggets offense.
The Nuggets decided to rest Jamal Murray with knee soreness, which meant that Monte Morris got the start in his place. Mason Plumlee got the first basket of the game, going up for a reverse dunk that turned into a layup, a move many Nuggets fans are familiar with. MPJ had the first Nuggets basket, but the second came via a dunk from Morris, who looked really healthy on that bounce. Jerami Grant made his first two shots, with the second ricocheting into the hoop off glass. Will Barton heard footsteps after catching a pass from Jokic and committed a traveling violation, and after Grant scored on a right-hand drive to the rim, Malone called timeout to talk about the team’s start.
The Nuggets defense got a few stops after the break, helping them get into transition for an easy Barton bucket. Saddiq Bey got in the box score with a couple field goals, a 3-pointer and a mid-range shot. Aaron Gordon made both of his first two free throw attempts, taking a calm approach to help lock in from the charity stripe. Grant made a turnaround jumper, and knocked in the free throw after Dozier nearly tackled him for a foul. Dennis Smith Jr. missed a layup, and Jokic found MPJ for a deep 3-pointer in transition to tie the game at 21. Jokic worked his magic on the next possession, finding Gordon on a cut for a dunk.
The Pistons just kept on knocking down shots, with Hamidou Diallo hitting a 3-pointer, and their offensive surge helped them keep a lead. Grant got open in the middle of the paint for another point, getting him to 16 points. Campazzo hit a 3-pointer off a screen, a play that we’re really wanting to see. Millsap checked in for Jokic, and calmly hit a turnaround jumper to tie the game back up at 32-all. Barton got an offensive rebound and putback to give Denver their first lead at 34-32, with Dozier and Campazzo combining for a turnover to help get Denver another score. Campazzo wound up on the receiving end of some unselfish ball movement, hitting another 3-pointer to put Denver up by seven at the end of the quarter, 39-32.
The Nuggets bench helped power a nice run, getting stops and getting buckets from their veterans in Millsap and Campazzo. Millsap had a nice block on Hamidou Diallo, then jogged down the court and into a 3-pointer to put Denver quickly up by 12 points. Saddiq Bey ended the run with a corner 3-pointer, and the Pistons went into a sort of zone defense that gave the bench a little bit of fit for a possession. Millsap had the best defensive possession of the game on Grant, forcing him to go left and stripping him when he tried to go up for a layup. MPJ checked in and hit his first two field goals, pushing the Nuggets over the 50-point threshold. Millsap finished a wild offensive putback, getting payback on Isaiah Stewart after the Pistons teenager bodied him for a layup.
Jokic checked back in, and had one of the greatest finishes I’ve ever seen, with a one-hand tap under the ball over his right shoulder off a pass from Dozier that he was able to finish. Jerami Grant got pushed baseline by Aaron Gordon, and threw a pass to his head coach Dwane Casey trying to find a shooter. Jokic got a couple other buckets, helping get a defensive stop with a block on a Grant drive. Saddiq Bey hit another 3-pointer, as MPJ got caught cheating too far into the paint again, getting to 19 points already in the contest. Porter Jr. got hot with a couple baskets too, including a heat check 3-pointer in transition after Bey and Plumlee ran into each other on a Pistons offensive possession. Jokic hit Barton with a no-look dime, with Will floating through the air for a pretty layup, and then Jokic hit a deep fadeaway shot to cap off an 11-0 closing run for the quarter. The Nuggets were able to take a 20 point lead into the locker room, up 76-56.
Morris started the half with a layup, and then had a nice pass to MPJ in transition after Jokic tipped a rebound to him. Jokic got a post-up basket against Grant, then whipped the ball to Gordon for a corner three on the next possession. Plumlee showed off the vision that made him such a valuable backup center, hitting Bey on the perimeter for another 3-pointer (6 of 10). Barton and Morris worked off the high pick and roll with Jokic, dribbling into easy mid-range jumpers to keep the offense humming. Coach Malone brought Campazzo and Dozier into the game around the six minute mark, giving Barton and Morris a breather. Another stop by the Nuggets, with the rebound landing in Gordon’s hands, wound up in MPJ’s hands for an easy layup in transition, putting the Nuggets up by 28 points.
Jokic and Gordon had an amazing play in the halfcourt offense, passing the ball back and forth as they plinkoed towards the rim, with Jokic winding up flipping the ball into the hoop to crack the 100 point threshold with just over three minutes left in the quarter.
They're just having fun out there pic.twitter.com/NCxP9amzWh— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 7, 2021
The Nuggets had a bit of a cold spell for a few minutes, but the league MVP was able to get his hands on an offensive rebound for a putback. Will Barton stole the ball from Jerami Grant, and Jokic worked for a hook shot that he got to drop for another bucket. Grant hit a 3-pointer at the end of the shotclock near the end of the quarter, and Barton missed a buzzer-beater, leaving the Nuggets with just a 109-86 lead.
Barton and Millsap started the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, continuing the Nuggets onslaught after the break. They missed a couple shots, but got back on the horse courtesy of another Barton 3-pointer. They repeated that formula again over the next few minutes, missing shots before JaMychal Green connected a 3-pointer. Frank Jackson hit a corner 3-pointer, getting the Pistons within 17 points. Green hit another 3-pointer, which is nice, but the offense was really stagnant as all the players on the court were content to just pass the ball around looking for long-range shots to pull the trigger on.
Zeke Nnaji got his first minutes in a while, checking in with about four minutes remaining, and the blowout was officially on as the Nuggets emptied the rest of their bench after a MPJ bucket. Gary Clark got his first minutes in a Nuggets uniform, and a PJ Dozier 3-pointer gave Denver a new season high in the closing minutes of the game.
The Nuggets starting lineup is unstoppable. I’m not going to pretend that the Pistons defense was ever going to stand a chance at slowing down the Nuggets, but even without Jamal Murray, they were operating like a steamroller tonight whenever the foursome of Gordon-MPJ-Jokic-Barton were on the court together. They’re working on their on-court chemistry, figuring out how to defend together, and are playing unselfish basketball. Gordon has completely bought into the Nuggets system of ball movement, and Barton was on the mark tonight. When those guys are clicking, there hasn’t been a team they’ve played yet that could slow them down.
Jerami Grant was definitely capable of more. Grant didn’t get to start very often in Denver, with Paul Millsap getting the nod there thanks to his defensive chops and veteran status. He was never going to be one of the team’s top scoring options on a team with Murray, Jokic, and Porter Jr., so it makes sense for him to want to join a team where he could expand his offensive game. He looked good as a scoring threat for the Pistons, knocking down turnaround jumpers and driving the lane with purpose. He still struggles to drive to his left, and isn’t a skilled passer, but he played well tonight (in the first half).
Aaron Gordon has unlocked Michael Porter Jr. Gordon helps the Nuggets in a lot of different areas, but in my opinion, one of the chief benefits is that he is able to unlock MPJ. Gordon gives Porter someone that the young forward can study defense with, learn how to make plays with his athleticism on that end of the court, and switch defensive assignments with. With their rebounding skills, they can trust each other to gather in a missed shot if they play tight defense. On offense, Gordon is content with MPJ hunting for his shot at times, and MPJ is aware of Gordon’s ability to cut and finish. Their strengths and weaknesses complement each other, and both players look really happy to play together. Keeping them happy in their roles is one of the keys for the Nuggets success over the next two seasons as they compete for a championship.
P.S. - I predicted the Nuggets would win 130-102, wasn’t that far off.
The Nuggets play the Spurs two times in a row. San Antonio is a good team, with talented wings, and will be a good matchup for the Nuggets.