In the first game of the new year, the Denver Nuggets came to play and ended up giving the Golden State Warriors a run for their money. Denver played assertive, smart basketball for a large part of the game, but the star power possessed by the Warriors was too much to handle in the end. Despite a late run by the Nuggets, Golden State won by a score of 127-119.

The Nuggets showed no signs of a new year’s hangover as they come out aggressive from the start. Gallo hit his first two shots and Jokic quickly got to work doing Jokic things like finding open cutters and hitting easy shots, and even forcing a steal on Zaza Pachulia in the backcourt for a dunk. For the Warriors, it was Pachulia who got things going early with seven quick points but soon the bigger names on the roster began contributing in their normal ways. Jokic picked up two dumb fouls so Nurkic replaced him and made his presence felt early in the paint by deflecting passes and showing some nice post moves. Instead of settling for jumpers, the Nuggets attacked the paint and it paid off early, as they found themselves down by only two points after one.

Ian Clark came out on fire for Golden State in the second, knocking down consecutive shots and getting to the free throw line, but Will Barton was right there for Denver to match his scoring efforts. Denver’s bench played phenomenally in the first half – led by Barton and Nurkic who had nine points each – and outscored the Warrior’s bench 28-19. Even when the starters came back in, the Nuggets were able to match every move Golden State made. The crowd went crazy when Curry hit a three from seven feet behind the arc in transition, but Gallo countered with a three of his own and it was quickly silent again in Oracle Arena. Kevin Durant hit a long three as time expired, and Golden State went into the half up 68-64.

The chess match continued into the third quarter, but the Warriors slowly built a lead throughout the frame. Klay Thompson hit a three and despite Gallo getting to the line to chip away at it, Denver quickly found itself down ten. Emmanuel Mudiay made a spectacular tomahawk bounce pass off of a missed Gallo three to Harris for an easy layup, but each time the Nuggets scored Golden State would counter with a bucket of its own. Jokic made Draymond Green look silly in transition with a behind the back dribble that he ultimately took to the hoop for a flush to cut the lead to six, but overall the Nuggets got way too trigger happy from deep in the third. They only shot 1 for 11 from three, and as a result ended the quarter down by nine, 94-85.

Chandler kept the Nuggets within striking distance with five early points before turnovers from Barton and Nelson gave the Warriors unnecessary buckets to build the their lead. Kevin Durant subbed in quickly to try and put Denver away, but Barton and Chandler hits threes to keep the Nuggets alive. Other than that, the Nuggets’ offense flatlined without Jokic on the floor and he didn’t sub in until there was less than five minutes left in the game. With Joker finally on the court, Denver went on an 11-2 run late in the fourth to crawl within six, but it wouldn’t be enough as Golden State held on 127-119.

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Closing Notes

  • The last time the Denver faced off against the Golden State, it took but half of the first quarter before the game was pretty much over in a 24 point Warriors blowout. In that match, the Nuggets got into a game of horse with the Warriors (as Scott Hastings would say) by trying to out-shoot the best shooting team in the league. In the first half tonight, Denver attacked the paint and passed the ball almost perfectly and were with the Warriors every step, even leading at times. However, in the third quarter the Nuggets reverted back to stagnant, jump shot offense (1-11 from three) and that’s when the game slipped out of their hands. It was frustrating to see the team go toe-to-toe with a juggernaut in the Warriors, only to shoot itself out of the game in one quarter’s play. I loved the improvement, but there is a lot of growing to do.
  • Why did the Nuggets shoot 10 more three-pointers than Golden State? Denver went 9- for-35 from deep. 35 three pointers!
  • Jusuf Nurkic had a big night, putting up 15 points, six rebounds and four assists. He made a great case to be Denver’s backup center with Kenneth Faried out. Interestingly, I thought that Denver actually missed the Manimal on the offensive glass, especially from the bench unit. Faried averages 3.2 offensive boards per game; all of Nurk’s six rebounds came on the defensive end of the floor tonight. Jokic was a monster with eight offensive rebounds.
  • I liked Malone’s rotations for the most part tonight, though with no Faried he was certainly forced to use Nurkic more. I don’t like that Jokic got two fouls in the first quarter then only ended up playing 25 minutes the entire game. Jokic, Gallo and Harris didn’t sub into the fourth quarter until there was less than five minutes remaining, and by then it was too late. Nurk played great, but eight more minutes from Jokic and Denver could (maybe) have squeaked out an upset.
  • Jokic is point-God