If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Before I say anything else, I have got to say that it has to suck to root against Nikola Jokic. The dude will spend two hours of your life moving around at his pace and dragging you through the mud with him. Then, right when you think you have him at the brink, he’ll crush your hopes. He lets all of his emotions fly that had been sitting below the surface all game long. I’m glad to say that I get to root for him on a nightly basis.

Now, with that out of the way, a belated Happy New Year to all, and thank you for being here. The Denver Nuggets are a third quarter evisceration machine. I’m not sure what they’re doing in the locker room at halftime, but they’re annihilating teams coming out of the break. Among 5-man lineups with at least 100 third-quarter minutes, Denver’s starting five leads the NBA with a net rating of 30.4, which is 14 points better than any other lineup.

Denver has consistently shown over the last few years that they’re one of the league’s best closing teams. Due in large part to their potent offense, they can afford to “slack” off a bit in the first half of games. That allows them to conserve energy for those big third quarter explosions. So, what exactly is this team doing in the third quarter that makes them just such a handful for other teams to deal with?

Get Shooters Going

One key thing for Denver’s offense is getting their shooters going early in the quarter. The spacing that is provided by Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jamal Murray opens the floor up for Jokic and Aaron Gordon. When there’s space to move around, there’s space to make plays. Denver started their third period against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in a tie game. On their first possession, they get into their offense early, with the ball getting swung to the corner. Murray drives in before kicking across the court to KCP, and he feeds MPJ in the corner for a triple. 

Jokic is the straw that stirs the team’s drink. There’s no one that’s going to argue against that. However, you can argue that Murray is right up there in terms of importance for this team’s success. When he’s playing well, it adds an element to the offense that makes them so much more difficult to deal with. Instead of just dealing with Jokic as a primary ball handler that can create his own shot or set up the rest of the guys on the floor, now you have Murray too. Here, it’s early in the quarter, and Denver just wants to get him an easy look to see his shot go through. Murray uses the screen from Jokic to generate some space, and he knocks down the look. Now, the rest of the quarter the defense has to honor his shooting away from the rim because he can take over a game in an instant.

Use the Space

This play takes place less than two minutes after the first clip from this piece. The defense for the Hornets was swarming around on that first possession and collapsing on the ball at every spot. Now, after just one MPJ triple, they can’t do it. Due to Jokic’s passing ability, they have to stay on their man. One person collapsing a little too hard, and there’s going to be a triple raining in over their head. So, thanks to the one-on-one matchup, Jokic just calmly backs down his defender and flips in a little hook shot that looks like he was demonstrating it for a tutorial video.

This play takes place just a couple possessions after the second clip from the above section. Denver has gotten a couple of baskets on the board in the period, and they’ve slightly stretched their lead at the half from three to four. The defense is keyed in on Jokic looking for outside shooters, but they’re forgetting about the ability for those shooters to move. They all get caught watching their stationary targets that KCP’s leak to the basket doesn’t get read until it’s too late, and he gets the free layup.