I became a single dad when my daughters were very young. I moved into the requisite crappy two bedroom apartment, and had a couch and a rickety dining table donated to me. A cheap mattress went on the floor in my room, and a friend of my dad’s gifted me three pieces of magic for my daughters: A bunk bed, an 11-inch TV, and the oldest VCR I had ever seen.

Sadly, all of the Disney videos had stayed back at the old house. The only kid-friendly video tape left in my possession was a movie that came out 30-some years earlier, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But every week the girls spent at my place, we’d cook our dinner together and go sit on a blanket in their bedroom and watch a movie. Well, watch THE movie. I figure in that first year we easily watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang over a hundred times. Somehow, those beautiful girls would still smile and sing that damned song every night. Back then, I thought I’d shoot myself if it played one more time. Now, it brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it.

I was a little choked up last night as well. That sputtering, coughing, flying machine very closely resembled the supposed-to-be-a-hot-rod offense your Denver Nuggets wheeled out in their season opener last night. Gone were the laser passes and cuts of last year, replaced by something that looked a little like a fast forward and rewind on a prehistoric VCR. Herking and jerking their way through 44-plus minutes of forgettable offensive basketball brought the Nuggets to the precipice of a road loss to kick off their 2018-2019 season. Passes were poorly placed, which either disrupted the team’s rhythm or resulted in turnovers. Shooting was poor from every part of the floor, with point-blank layups missing the mark at a surprising rate. The usual motion offense was rarely seen, and the ball swinging from side to side across the floor was impacted because of it.

All of that allowed a “Oh, he plays for the Clippers now?” Los Angeles squad to dictate the pace and play of a game that Denver better needs to force their will upon as the season takes off. Will Barton was the only consistent scorer for Denver over the first three-and-three-quarters quarters of a game most kindly described as inconsistent. Nikola Jokic missed his first three three-pointers, Gary Harris left three or four point-blank layups off the mark, Jamal Murray was often less than aggressive, and Paul Millsap was still struggling to find the bottom of the net.

That was the bad news.

With all of those things being true, the Denver jalopy finally got off its undercarriage and flew for the 200 seconds that mattered, pulling away from the Clippers at the end for a nine-point win. The team had been stumbling for a while, letting a 12-point first half lead slip to a five-point deficit late in the game. During that slide, Denver kept working at the facets they could control with effort on defense, hustle, and rebounding. Though the Nuggets D is still not going to be winning any major awards this season, all of the following things are true:

  • They got several key stops that mattered throughout the game
  • Millsap had a sweet 16 rebounds
  • Active hands plundered a total of six steals
  • Mason Plumlee’s three blocks were timely and done manly-man style. Four other Nuggets contributed five more for a solid first-game total.
  • Jokic regularly placed himself in the right spot to be an impactful part of the team defense, including a key read on a late-game pick-and-roll against Danilo Gallinari that earned the Joker a charge. His reaction after that play was as much emotion as he showed all game, and was well timed. That play and his late three-point swish seemed to be key catalysts for the late heroics from the team.

By game’s end, the overall score looked a little more like a typical Nuggets effort, with Jokic going off for 21, Harris for 20, and Barton for 19. Millsap managed 11 points, primarily off of nine made free throws, and Trey Lyles added 10 from the bench. But make no mistake, the only thing that kept this game within striking distance was the little things the team did to spell the needs of a stuttering offense.

Keeping an excited opposing home team with momentum within range during a protracted cold streak was not a part of last season’s makeup for these Denver Nuggets. While the ride through the preseason and first game has been a little bumpy, it’s also been primarily winning basketball. The good news is that it’s happening without their engine running at its best. When they get that carburetor cleaned out… Bang bang.

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