The Denver Nuggets weathered a hurricane this weekend. It was excruciating to watch, knowing how exhausted the starters already are. After winning an overtime game on Friday night, the Nuggets were once again victorious on Saturday, winning 120-112 in double overtime against the same Phoenix Suns (minus Devin Booker). Nikola Jokić racked up 29 points, 22 rebounds, and six assists in a game he was clearly tired but stuck it out. Jamal Murray hit the game-tying buzzer beater three-pointer in the fourth quarter and finished with 26 points himself. The bench picked up the starters, namely Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr., and JaMychal Green, who combined for 43 points off the bench.

Once again, the starting unit struggled to match up with the Phoenix Suns system. Chris Paul facilitated several Suns baskets by driving into the teeth of the defense and kicking out to shooters. Denver’s starting unit began by dribbling too much offensively but recovered nicely featuring a lineup that included Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., JaMychal Green, and Nikola Jokic. As soon as Jokić left the floor, Denver relinquished the lead, but that lineup did enough work to keep the quarter close, with the Suns leading 30-28 after one quarter.

The second unit found a nice rhythm by facilitating open jump shots on a consistent basis. Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo, and PJ Dozier all had a hand in creating open looks for teammates while Michael Porter Jr. and JaMychal Green were the primary recipients, converting both inside and outside shots. Porter in particular had some impressive jumpers, both in the mid-range and behind the three-point line.

Paul continued his brilliance though, setting up both inside and outside shooters at an incredible rate. Still, Denver’s bench kept pace with Phoenix until the starters returned. This was a rough stretch for Paul Millsap, who struggled to convert his opportunities on one end and couldn’t guard the interior or perimeter on the other. Jokić picked up another questionable offensive foul that Michael Malone challenged unsuccessfully (Scott Foster questions). Denver trailed Phoenix 61-58 at halftime after some impressive shooting from Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson.

Both teams began the game with poor execution and poor shooting. Gary Harris and Will Barton tried to get going what they had on Friday night, but attacking the rim proved fruitless for both. Harris finally got a three to go, but none of the starters could find a basket for 6:37 of game time, at which point the Nuggets still had three points scored in the third quarter to their name. Morris, Porter, and Green entered to give Denver a bit of a boost, and Denver cut the Suns lead back down just a bit with that group out there. Still, Phoenix maintained their lead with Paul hitting a three at the end of the quarter over PJ Dozier, and the Suns led 77-73.

Monte Morris immediately hit a transition three after ending the third quarter with a three. The bench as a whole played well together offensively, generating good shot after good shot. Even with Chris Paul on the court, Denver kept pace and even manufactured a small lead before Jokic and Murray returned to the floor. Morris was exceptional in this spot, captaining everything. The bench played an extended stretch on the back to back and had a nice lead before Murray and Jokić came back in, but five quick points by Mikal Bridges put Phoenix back in front. Denver and Phoenix went back and forth with CP3 and Murray hitting back to back mid-range jumpers, but with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Denver down one, Jokic air balled a potential game-leading shot and Paul hit the mid-range on the other end.

Then, Murray did the impossible and hit the buzzer-beating three to send the game to overtime, while being fouled.

In overtime, the game was a slugfest. Both teams were clearly tired, and Jokic perhaps the most of all. Denver found a way to get some big baskets late though, and with Deandre Ayton fouling out, Jokić found a late And-1 against Frank Kaminsky that should have sealed the game. Instead, a miracle foul call by Scott Foster and a miracle late three by Jae Crowder tied the game up with 0.7 seconds left. Denver didn’t do themselves any favors with late game execution though.

Double overtime ensued with both teams already exhausted after a back to back that went to overtime the night before. Monte Morris began the period with five quick points off two assists from Jokić. Two baskets from Jokić on back-to-back possessions gave Denver a seven point lead with 2:39 remaining. Denver went back and forth after that, and while the Suns made things interesting at points, Denver got what they needed in a complete and utter slugfest by weathering the storm. Final score: 120-112.

Key Takeaways

The starters were exhausted by the third quarter on a back-to-back

It was clear from the jump that the starters were tired, with Will Barton and Paul Millsap struggling to get anything going on either end. It’s also understandable, given the back to back. The starters played heavy minutes the night before in a game that went to overtime, and while Millsap didn’t, he’s 35. It’s understandable.

Things really dovetailed in the third quarter when neither team’s starters could buy a bucket. Harris hit three three-pointers throughout the game, but Barton and Millsap combined to score just three points on 11 shots while struggling to cover the perimeter defensively. Denver found their energy with the bench unit and stuck with Morris and Porter down the stretch.

Michael Porter Jr. is back

14 points on 5-of-9 from the field, 11 rebounds, a steal, and a block encapsulate exactly what the Nuggets missed with Porter out for 10 games in a row. The second year forward played 36 minutes tonight, including roughly 26 of the final 28. He didn’t make a major impact as a scorer in the second half, but his rebounding was solid, as were his defensive rotations.

At some point, the Nuggets will reinsert him into the starting lineup. There is no recourse. He’s too good.

The bench saved the starters again, as they should on a back-to-back

With the team on a back to back, it’s important to have a reliable bench unit. The Nuggets have found a rhythm with four pillars of their bench unit: Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., and JaMychal Green. Facundo Campazzo is the fifth player out there most nights, and with the starters desperately in need of a pick-me-up, the bench provided. Morris, Porter, and Green were all double-digit positives, and the energy and execution they brought to both sides of the floor helped the Nuggets settle down. Murray made the big shot at the end of the fourth quarter. Jokic helped bring the game home. It was the bench, however, that won the game for the Nuggets by picking up a starting unit that appeared ineffective for the second night in a row.

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