Without superstar big man Anthony Davis, New Orleans gave Denver their best effort but fell just short, 116-111
The Denver Nuggets keep growing up before our eyes. Despite falling victim to old habits and allowing an inferior opponent to hang around, this is a new version of the Nuggets.
In a game much like the countless many the Nuggets have allowed to slip away in recent seasons past, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, and Denver dug deep to survive the New Orleans Pelicans second-half surge. The Pelicans had all of the momentum, pulling within two with five to play, but Denver held on for the 116-111 victory.
The Nuggets shot just 45 percent from the field and 31 percent from deep, but without Anthony Davis (out with an elbow injury) and his 27, 13 and 5, the Pelicans just didn’t have enough to overcome the steady play of Harris and the second-half spark from Beasley.
Harris scored 23 on 50 percent shooting, snagged six boards, dished six dimes and recorded a pair of steals. Beasley checked in early in the second half and played like a man with his hair on fire, immediately sparking the Nuggets on a 7-0 run and finishing a team-high +10.
Unlike the matchup against the Lakers last time out, the Nuggets showed resolve down the stretch tonight as Nikola Jokić freed Beasley up with some nice passes for some big baskets, Harris forced a couple of late turnovers and Denver closed the game out late.
Jokić seemed to struggle throughout, never really getting into a rhythm and meandering around the perimeter, but he still nearly recorded a triple-double, finishing one rebound short (12-9-10). It still looks like the squad is languishing a bit without Will Barton in the starting unit as Torrey Craig has had a rough start to the season offensively, and the rest of the starters are struggling to hit open shots from deep.
Jamal Murray again had an up-and-down evening, dropping 23 points but failing to get his sensational Serbian big man engaged on the offensive end. In light of Davis being out, when it was announced that Jahlil Okafor was starting instead of Julius Randle, I thought the Joker was primed for a humungous offensive night, but it was not to be.
Randle did what he always seems to do inside against Denver, bullying his way to 24 points, and Nikola Mirotić had a 17-point double-double to lead the Pelicans. Additionally, had he not been in foul trouble throughout the first half of the game, Jrue Holiday could have dropped a triple-double as well, going for 16 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in 34 minutes.
It wasn’t pretty but a win is a win. The Nuggets definitely didn’t bring the optimal version of themselves tonight, but they still were able to grind out an all-important victory that could have significant implications on playoff seeding down the stretch.
With each passing game, this team keeps growing and building. Let’s hope they’re building toward something special.
On to my game notes.
Murray got off to a relatively quick start, scoring the Nuggets first five points on a right-handed drive to the rack and an open three-pointer via a handoff from Jokic. But then, the Nuggets fell completely flat — likely assuming they’d be able to easily walk over the shorthanded Pelicans at home. There was very little movement on offense and energy on defense, and Malone called a quick timeout in the middle of an offensive set.
The bench came in and didn’t perform much better, allowing the Pelicans to build a nine-point lead before fighting back a bit. Holiday came out hot for the Pels, dropping nine points on 4-4 shooting, three assists and a pair of defensive boards as the Pelicans took a four-point advantage into the break.
We've completed 25% of this game. pic.twitter.com/CNDQ32Zcyr
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 30, 2018
Murray and the bench unit fought back to eventually reclaim the lead at 32-30. The Nuggets played better defense, forcing several turnovers, and the three-point shot began to fall for Murray. Monte Morris’ steady game continues to impress me even if the counting stats don’t always illustrate his impact. During 13 minutes of first half action, Morris shot 2-6, but hit a big three to tie the game and forced three turnovers. Morris did, however, log his first turnover on the young season.
Jokić came back in late in the quarter, and the Nuggets finally found a rhythm. The ball started to move around a bit as Beasley hit a corner three and Harris threw down a rowdy alley-oop in Randle’s face — both coming by way of sweet passes from the Joker. The Mile High crew went on a 10-2 run late in the quarter, capped by a sweet and-one play from the Blue Arrow to take a 58-45 lead into halftime.
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) October 30, 2018
Despite spending the majority of his time on the perimeter, Jokić dropped a cool 10-4-5 in the first half.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was none too pleased with the effort the starting unit began the third period with, and he called a quick timeout less than two minutes in. Trey Lyles also registered 11 points in his 12 minutes.
Malone's internal tea kettle is steaming. He calls a timeout less than two minutes into the third quarter after a couple bad turnovers and lackluster defensive possessions. Sent Beasley to the scorer's table 90 seconds in to sub for someone, will know after the TO.
— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) October 30, 2018
Beasley came in for Craig, and Denver quickly pushed their lead back up to 17, following a nice block on Okafor from Paul Millsap and back-to-back slams, one each from Millsap and Beasley. Cheick Diallo came in for the Pels and made a series of nice plays, helping NOLA to pull back within 11. Murray ended a brief 6-0 run with an elbow jumper, and the starters pushed the lead out to 18.
Beasley’s impact on the third quarter cannot be overstated. As soon as he entered the game, Denver went on a quick 7-0 run, and his effort and perimeter shooting was vital to help the Nuggets keep their distance from the Pelicans. The Pelicans went on an extended 14-4 run, won the quarter 31-26 and played better down the stretch, eventually pulling back within eight going into the fourth.
The Pelicans caught fire from long distance and pulled the game within four digits early on in the final frame. The teams went back and forth for a bit before Harris knocked down a couple of big baskets, including a long two as the shot clock expired and a tough drive in transition.
After the break, the Pelicans starters came in and brought it back to within two almost instantly, and all of a sudden, the Nuggets are in a dogfight with five to play. Murray hits a nice turnaround then Jokić whips the dime to Beasley for a huge three-point shot to extend the lead to five. Jokić again found Beasley, this time down low and then the Nuggets ripped a steal for the easy Millsap dunk in transition. Pepsi Center is rocking!
The Nuggets somehow allowed Mirotić to sneak open for a couple of threes, so they couldn’t pull away. Jokić knocked down his first two points of the second half with less than two left in the fourth on a pair of free throws, but again, the Nuggets struggled to put the nail in the coffin and the Pelicans hung around.
Harris came up with a few monstrous defensive stands down the stretch, and Millsap pushed the lead back out to eight with fifteen seconds left to allow the Nuggets to hold on for their fifth win of the 2018-19 season.
It wasn’t pretty, but at the end of the season, they don’t ask how you make the playoffs, they just ask how many wins you have. The Pelicans scratched and clawed and seemed poised for the upset with five to go, but the maturity and growth that this Nuggets team is shown early on certainly is very encouraging.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 30, 2018