After dominating the Nuggets for the past several match ups, the talk heading into tonight’s game was all about Russell Westbrook. But when it actually came to the game, Ol’ Russ took a back seat to the best point guard on the floor that night: Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay’s 21 points off the bench sparked the Nuggets and despite an offensive onslaught from Carmelo Anthony, Denver held on for the biggest win of the season.

Any remnants of the Thunder’s struggling offense must’ve been left in Sacramento as they came out flying on that end of the floor. Carmelo Anthony (why is he still getting booed?) got off to a quick start by putting up a quick 8 points and Westbrook did Westbrook things, attacking the basket and orchestrating OKC to an early 11 point lead. Denver’s bench came in and gave the team some life – Emmanuel Mudiay hit a big three in transition and Mason Plumlee worked the paint for some easy buckets. The unit as a whole stepped it up defensively and whittled the Thunder lead to just six points after one.

The bench revival continued in the early goings of the second quarter as Malik Beasley ran the floor for a sweet layup and Plumlee continued to impress down low. Nikola “Joe-kic” hit Mudiay with an incredible pass for an easy bucket and Denver tied the game, but turnovers killed the momentum and enabled OKC to get back in front. The rest of the quarter was a dog fight. Paul George started hitting some shots and Melo finished the half with 15 points as the Thunder led 53-51. Mudiay and Plumlee led the Nuggets with 11 points each.

Melo came out firing in the third quarter and hit two quick threes, but the Nuggets were right there with him to trade baskets. Jokic was much more aggressive in the second half and was rewarded with 9 points and several rebounds. Any time Oklahoma City tried to pull away, Denver responded. The Nuggets

The fourth quarter began with a three Ray Felton jumpers, prompting a quick Malone timeout. Mudiay countered with two HUGE three-pointers to give Denver a lead, then built on it with two smooth layups and a pin-point pass to Plumlee for a layup. Carmelo kept Oklahoma City within striking distance throughout the fourth, but the Mudiay onslaught was too much and the Nuggets secured the win!

Game Notes

  • Emmanuel F—ing Mudiay! Are you kidding me? Mudiay could not miss and he absolutely jumpstarted the Denver bench. He finished with 21 points (10 in the fourth quarter) and received a standing ovation from the crowd, absolutely deserving for the best game of his career by far. Damn.
  • Once again the starters seemed to lack focus right off the bat as they simply weren’t ready for the Thunder’s offensive blitz. The bench really saved the game from getting out of hand, not only in the first quarter but in the entire first half. Led by Mudiay and Plumlee (who also looked great btw), the reserves scored 31 of the Nuggets 51 first half points and gave Denver a chance to win. Not a good look, but they did come out much more prepared in the second half as has been the trend.
  • Paul Millsap has been a godsend for the defense. Just watch him – he does so many little things to disrupt the offensive flow. He had six blocks in the first half, including a couple huge ones on Westbrook. He’s pretty good on offense, too.
  • Denver got killed on the offensive glass in the first half by giving up 13 offensive boards for 21 second chance points. Fortunately this was not the case in the second half as the effort to limit such points was much better, and was definitely a difference maker.
  • Jokic had a very quiet first half with just four points on six FGAs but his aggressiveness in the third quarter really made the difference. He had 9 points in the third quarter and finished with 15 and 11 rebounds.
  • Carmelo Anthony: 28 points, 5 rebounds, 0 assists. Still hasn’t won a game at Pepsi Center since being traded from the Nuggets.

Closing Thought

It was ABA Night at Pepsi Center, and in a way it was symbolic of the positive changes this team has made in 2017-18. For so long Denver has been right on the cusp of winning big games but has fallen short far more often than not against the league’s top competition. Tonight was absolutely different. The Nuggets were resilient. The Nuggets were tough. The Nuggets played with a defensive intensity that enabled them to overcome 19 turnovers and win by 8 points. They overcame a poor start and every time Oklahoma City started to pull away, the Nuggets answered and then punched back, until Mudiay gave the Thunder the final knockout.

If this is the team we are going to get night in and night out, then 2017-18 will be a very special year. And in case anyone is still wondering, basketball is back in the Mile High City.