The Denver Nuggets ended off the 2021 pre-season by playing the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning 113-107 in overtime. Markus Howard was the leading scorer with 31 points and 9 threes, Will Barton also played great in his limited minutes scoring 14 points and making 2 threes. Neither team had their normal starters which allowed for unique lineups, some of which you may never see again.
The Thunder won the opening tip and rookie Tre Mann hit a 3 to start the game. Shots were not falling for the Nuggets early on and took two and a half minutes for Will Barton to finally open things off for Denver with a three pointer. The Nuggets did not have good perimeter defense to start the game off, as the Thunders first 4 baskets were all three pointers.
Bol Bol had an interesting first stretch of game time, he had a dunk, then a block, then back to back possessions where he stepped out of bounds and was pulled from the game. Will Barton lead the Nuggets with 10 first quarter points including 2 threes and a few tough finishes. We also saw Tarik Black and Davon Reed for the first time. The quarter ended with a score of 26-30 in favor of the Thunder. Both teams shot well from 3 as the Nuggets made 6 and the Thunder made 7.
Bones hit a three to start things off in the second quarter, his second of the game. Davon Reed looked really good on both ends of the floor, he was playing great hustle defense and was also drawing fouls he also made most of his free throws. One of the more promising things to come out of this game so far was Zeke Nnaji, he played great defense that didn’t show up on the stat sheet and also had a great block on Tre Mann. Nnaji also had a great up and under finish off the backboard during the 2nd quarter. Another bright spot for the bench unit is that Vlatko Cancar looks to be an improved 3 point shooter, especially from the corner where he shot 2-2 in the corner. The Nuggets played well during the 2nd quarter and went in to the half up 56-50.
Bones looked comfortable running the offense and his playmaking has looked rsolid, he has finding an open shooter in the corner consistently. Nuggets did not shoot very well in the 3rd quarter and struggled to score early on. Josh Giddey made it difficult for the Nuggets defense to contain him, slashing wide open to the paint on numerous occasions. Facu Campazzo continued a not great outing with some missed shots and turning the ball over. When Facu came out of the game, the Nuggets went on a bit of a run and to end the quarter off down 83-77.
The Nuggets opened up the 4th playing well and closed the gap to one point behind the play of Markus Howard. One of Denver’s major issues was transition defense: the Nuggets gave up 13 fast break points in this one and were constantly behind the play. Bol Bol also did not look particularly engaged in the game, rarely pursuing rebounds and playing lackadaisically on switches at times. Nnaji and Cancar both played great defense down the stretch and switched on to other defenders well to help Denver get back into the game. Markus Howard came through late and hit a clutch three pointer, he tied the game at 102 with 3.7 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
The Thunder scored on the initial overtime possession and Markus Howard responded by hitting two 3’s of his own. After the Thunder hit a 3 with 47 seconds to go to shrink Denver’s lead to just 1. Markus Howard converted an incredible step back three to make it a 4 point game again with less than 30 seconds left. Markus had all 9 points for the Nuggets in overtime (minus Bones’s free throws late in OT).
Three Key Takeaways
Markus Howard is good.
The Nuggets do not win this game without Markus Howard, his 31 points and 9 threes was exactly what they needed. Markus showed a variety of different skills tonight including an improved passing ability, even though he only had one assist he was making good passes all night. Markus also shot great from the three point line and again proved he has what it takes to knock down shots in big time moments. He even grabbed 5 rebounds and for a player of Markus’s size that’s impressive.
The Nuggets have a deep bench
The Nuggets have players on the end of then bench that would be rotational players on other teams, Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji, Vlatko Cancar, Bol Bol, and Markus Howard can all contribute a lot to any team. None of these players are starting level players at the moment but the all deserve minutes. Every one of those players has had at least one good pre-season game and shows definitive levels of improvement to their games. Ultimately the Nuggets don’t have a single player on the team that I would be upset at if they were getting minutes,
Our Defense is not going to be good this season
The Nuggets have struggled defensively for many seasons and this one will be no different. We had terrible perimeter defense and we were getting burned by threes all game. One of the only good defenders tonight was Davon Reed, who most likely won’t be here for the rest of season. Zeke Nnaji also showed flashes of being a good defender in this game but he has not been good in the rest of the pre-season so who can really say.
The regular season! The Nuggets next game is the season opener verses the Suns on October 20th. The lineup will look very different compared to this game, it will be interesting to see what guys from the end of the bench can crack the rotation. As well as if PJ Dozier can eventually crack the starting lineup.