The Denver Nuggets first ever game in the NBA Cup was a success. Big performances from Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. combined with tough defense proved to be too much for the Dallas Mavericks. Luka Doncic did all he could but didn’t get enough support and the Mavs played from behind for almost the entire game. Denver hands Dallas their first loss of the season and also starts 1-0 in group play for the NBA Cup.

The Nuggets started the game a bit sloppy but turned it around quickly with a couple of threes. Dallas was crisp on their end as well. There wasn’t a ton of defense played early in the game and the Nuggets got red hot from three. Dallas kept pace with good shooting on their own side but Denver forced them into some turnovers and got an early lead. Michael Porter Jr in particular had a nice start to the game, both shooting well from three and looking to drive to the basket. Denver continued to push their early lead, a Nuggets steal led to a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope layup on the other end to push it to fourteen but KCP also came up holding his back and checked out of the game. The bench checked in for the final minutes of the quarter and ratcheted up the defense which grew the Nuggets lead even more. Peyton Watson had a highlight block in the final seconds and Denver finished off about as perfect a quarter as you can have leading 40-24.

Things cooled off to start the second quarter with the bench group getting a little sloppy but still playing tough defense. Doncic was providing the only offense for Dallas and even then nothing was coming easy for him. It was good news for the Nuggets a couple minutes into the second as Caldwell-Pope checked back into the game shortly before the rest of the starters. The sloppy play continued with the starters in but Denver maintained a double digit lead halfway through the quarter. The offense picked up after that with Jokic and Murray scoring on the Denver side and Tim Hardaway Jr. doing damage on the Mavericks side. The lead stayed right around a dozen pretty much throughout the quarter. Jokic buried a buzzer three to close the half and put Denver up fifteen 70-55.

The Denver defense persisted to start the second half but their shooting had gone a little cold which kept the lead right around fifteen. Doncic continued to be the main scoring force for Dallas but Denver’s starters kept pace. Jokic and Porter had great quarters in particular. With the quarter wearing on, the Mavericks started to go on a run by picking up the physicality. Denver answered with a run of their own, highlighted by a monster Watson dunk. Unfortunately Denver closed out the quarter poorly. Dallas went on an 10-0 run to get within twelve but MPJ hit a three to close the quarter and put Denver up 102-87.

Dallas came out with energy to start the fourth and immediately went on a run to get the game down to single digits in less than two minutes. Michael Malone called a timeout and settled things down. Denver responded with a run to carry the non-Jokic minutes and keep them ahead by a dozen when he checked in. Dallas pushed back again with the quarter hitting the halfway point but the Nuggets lead stayed in double digits. Dallas refused to go away, keeping just within striking distance behind Doncic. He knocked down a long three with under two minutes to go to pull Dallas within nine. Denver’s stars responded to push the lead to thirteen with a minute left and the Mavericks simply ran out of time. Denver wins 125-114.

The three things

Best matchup: Dallas backcourt vs Denver frontcourt

Nov 3, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) passes over Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Doncic had a big game and his best support came from Kyrie Irving. I wouldn’t call the pairing’s game a beautiful symphony of basketball harmony, but they can both isolate on advantageous matchups and finish well which is an effective strategy. For Denver their backcourt struggled but the frontcourt was outstanding. Jokic came an assist shy of a triple-double and was the consistent force the Nuggets needed. Porter Jr. also had a big game. He was a big part of the Nuggets forty point first quarter and had his whole game going tonight. 4-8 from three and over 55% from three, Mike was tremendous on offense while also being up to the challenge of guarding Doncic more than once.

The main thing I noticed: the NBA cup flair grew on me

So…the blue court’s not terrible right? By the end of the game I didn’t even notice it and honestly I liked the fact that the backdrop of the game was unique. Do I care about the NBA Cup in the end? Not really, millionaires winning more money doesn’t really excite me, but you can for damn sure bet I’ll be talking trash about being the first ever NBA Cup champs if the Nuggets pull it off. I even think I could like the City Edition jerseys if it weren’t for the double row of font. Shout out to Alec Gwin on a simple change that would have made these jerseys so much better.

Luka goes over 30.5 points

The under on alternate Luka points did not hit tonight. The Nuggets had their chance to put Dallas away early in the second half but let them hang around and that was largely because of Doncic. Early in the game the Nuggets were able to swarm him and get the ball out of his hands but in the second half he started to heat up on his deep threes for which there’s really no defense. In the end it’s as good of a strategy as any though. Let Luka get his, contain the rest of the team and walk away with a W.