Torrey Craig put up 27 points and 11 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets ousted the Houston Rockets for their first win in Las Vegas Summer League. The final score was 87-81, and the Nuggets held on due to an excellent defensive performance throughout.

Juancho Hernangomez sat out this game against the Rockets to preserve his body for playing with the Spanish National team. In his place, Petr Cornelie was given the start next to Nikola Radicevic, Malik Beasley, Tyler Lydon, and Robert Carter Jr.. Cornelie was the first Nugget to score a bucket, on a rebound tip-in off a Carter Jr. miss. The Nuggets jumped out to a 8-2 lead early, playing much better defense than in previous beginnings of games. Houston battled back, but the Nuggets used a stingy defensive effort (whhhhaaaaattttt) to build a 20-12 lead by the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was more of the same for Denver defensively. They put a lot of pressure on the Rockets, who struggled to get their scorers going. Unfortunately, the Denver offense struggled to get going. Beasley in particular struggled to find his rhythm, as he settled for a variety of difficult midrange jumpers. Torrey Craig settled in and made some plays though, putting up eight quick points in the quarter. Houston battled back though, coming as close as 30-29, until Carter made a nice post move, Cornelie had a put back dunk, and Carter dunked too. Both teams went back and forth at the end of the half, which ended with Denver maintaining a 41-36 advantage.

Denver started the third quarter with a half court lob from Carter Jr. to Cornelie, but the defense struggled to get going in the same way. Unforced errors kept Houston from getting back into the game, but Denver couldn’t capitalize offensively. Denver started this game 0/11 from behind the arc, which kept Houston in it. Beasley continued to struggle, accumulating six turnovers in the first three quarters and missing all of his attempts in the quarter. Denver finally made their first three of the game, a Nikola Radicevic splash from the wing, but the Rockets kept grinding and eventually took the lead.

Monte Morris and company continued to put the pressure on though, and the Nuggets took back the lead, going up 63-57 at the end of the third quarter.

The fourth quarter began in the Nuggets favor with some nice plays by Henry Sims and Torrey Craig. Both excelled on the defensive end and made surprising offensive plays. Houston continued to use a balance offensive attack to climb back into things until Beasley hit a three. On that play, Fran Fraschilla commented on Lydon’s ability to keep the ball moving, something that goes relatively unnoticed during Summer League.

The game slowed to a halt in the last five minutes, highlighted by a Beasley turnover that turned into one of the best blocks of Summer League by the young shooting guard.

The two teams traded baskets down the stretch, staying within four points throughout the last few minutes. Both Carter Jr. and Craig scored down the stretch. Morris had a chance to ice things but lost a layup out of bounds. Still, the Nuggets used defense and free throws to ice the game, as Craig completed an excellent game on both ends. The Nuggets won 87-81 against the Rockets and will move on to face the Brooklyn Nets Summer League team.

Game Notes:

  • Robert Carter Jr. is an NBA player, but not a rotation guy. Carter finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and there is something about him that just feels like an NBA basketball player. He can score on his own or be the finisher off of passes or rebounds. He has a lot of Jarnell Stokes in his game who was a guy that made Denver’s roster last year. He may not make Denver’s roster, given the number of power forwards and the likely return of Mason Plumlee, but it’s worth watching to see how his NBA career goes.
  • Malik Beasley will continue to struggle this year. Beasley finished the game with nine points, but it took him 14 shots to get to that point. He also had eight turnovers, most of which came while he was dribbling into traffic or jump passing. This can’t happen if he wants a rotation spot, and based on how he’s played so far in Summer League, he’s probably not ready to make the jump to the rotation this year.