The Nuggets were finally healthy and active tonight after a bout of health issues over the last few weeks. Their starting lineup showed up fresh and rested ready to get down to business and although it was bumpy, there were plenty of trick shots, and behind the back, no-look passes for a great must-win.

Starting lineups:

Nuggets: Jameer Nelson, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Nikola Jokic

Pacers: C.J. Miles, Jeff Teague, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner

The Nuggets started off well offensively, but showed some challenges handling Paul George on the perimeter. Their defense was just okay allowing too much room for the Pacers giving them easy buckets. The Nuggets got off to a good start offensively taking an early lead 25-13 on a 17-3 run with about 5 minutes remaining in the first. Paul George struggled with Jokic and Gallinari under the rim, but the Pacers brought in Myles Turner to turn up the heat on defense setting the Nuggets offensive teeth on edge. Overall the Nuggets’ D gave the Pacers entirely too much space, but the lead was comfortable enough at 8 points 34-26 at the end of the 1st.

Plumlee struggled with Al Jefferson in the 2nd and hesitated to take the ball to the rim while Jefferson handled him easily in the post with a couple of easy shots. With Jefferson in the paint, the Nuggets’ reserves were reluctant to take the ball to the rim choosing instead to take poorly calculated jump shots. Combine this with an epic failure to rebound and the Pacers were able to cut the lead to just three points. Denver generally avoided contact as the Pacers became more physical resulting in an 11-3 run by Indiana.

Jokic and Gallinari finally came back in as Jefferson took to the bench to get a breather, and the bleeding stopped. In what was possibly the play of the game, Gallinari made a cut for Jokic who set him up for a beautiful left handed lay in (video below). Jokic answered with a left handed shot of his own putting the Nuggets back up by 15. Jokic finished the half with 21 points and 12 rebounds giving the Nuggets an 11 point cushion heading into the locker room.

The Nuggets opened the second half having recorded 19 team assists in the first two quarters while matching the physicality of the Pacers. Indiana went into the penalty with 8:17 left in the 3rd allowing the Nuggets to get an early scoring advantage by drawing fouls. Myles Turner seemed too committed to his jump shot missing a few opportunities to score and Nuggets went up by 21 points on a 17-4 scoring run. In the 3rd quarter alone, Gallinari and Chandler combined for a total of 16 points with Chandler taking a behind the back, no-look pass from Jokic for an easy basket under the rim.

Plumlee started the 4th in place of Jokic and showed serious signs of struggle with the physical Pacers. Nonetheless, the Nuggets kept their 20 point lead as the Pacers continued to struggle with fouls. At that point the Nuggets began to relax on defense allowing an 11-2 Paul George run. With the Pacers in the penalty early once more, Mike Malone encouraged the Nuggets to take the ball to the rim to take advantage of the opportunity to get to the line. However, the momentum had already shifted and the Pacers were able to cut the lead to just 5 points. Denver’s shots weren’t falling and confidence was in short supply with just two minutes to go, but once again Jokic came to save the day hitting a clutch 3 to put the lead back up to 8. The Nuggets were able to hang in there ultimately securing the win 125-117.

Top takeaways:

  • When the offense is movin’, the Nuggets are groovin’. Jokic’s passing prowess has become contagious and the Nuggets tallied a total of 19 team assists in the first half alone. Chandler and Gallinari did a good job getting open, and Jokic’s behind the back, no-look passes were magic.
  • The Nuggets’ reserves showed visible signs of discomfort with physical defense. Overall, they hesitated to make contact and gave too much room on defense allowing easy shots by the Pacers. At this point in the season, this is unacceptable so they need to get real comfy with physical contact in a hurry.
  • Focus is still a problem, even with the veterans. With a 20 point lead in the 4th quarter, the Nuggets let their foot off the gas allowing the Pacers to whittle the lead down to just 5. They need to figure out a way to lock in mentally for 48 minutes without losing their grip.