(Photo via: Aaron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post)
Nuggets five-game winning streak comes to an end as Denver falls to 0-2 in season series with Rockets.
The Denver Nuggets (26-12) were out shot by the Houston Rockets (23-16) in a 125-113 loss to the Houston Rockets. Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with a 24 point and 13 rebound double-double. Monte Morris added a career-high 21 points in an impressive performance.
Denver’s 7-for-29 performance from the 3-point line simply came far short of Houston’s 22-for-47 effort and it didn’t help that Houston also shot 13 more free throws. James Harden 32 points and 14 assists, but as much as he hurt the Nuggets it was the trio of P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green and Clint Capela that made this a game Denver couldn’t steal on the road. Tucker and Green had 21 points each while shooting 7-for-11 and 6-for-10 respectively while Capela added a career-high 31 points.
The Nuggets made a point of making other Rockets try to beat them early on, doubling Harden and allowing other Rockets to try to hit threes. Fortunately, the defense was strong and prevented Houston from taking advantage of a weak start from Denver on offense.
Jokic missed several shots and hardly anyone could complete a pass cleanly in the first half of the quarter which prevented the Nuggets from pulling away on their own in the first.
Jokic finally got it going on a late shot clock desperation three, adding a post lay in on the next possession. The scoring got Jokic’s playmaking going on a post-to-post look to Millsap to keep the Nuggets in the lead.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, P.J. Tucker started to find his shot after struggling early. Tucker was 4/6 from the 3-point line in the quarter on a series of defensive lapses from the corner and top of the key.
The Nuggets ended up leading by two points after one in large part due to contributions from Malik Beasley and Monte Morris who combined for 13 points on 5/6 shooting in the quarter. For a stretch into the early second quarter Monte Morris even had 12 straight Denver points.
The second quarter was defined by Clint Capela and free throw disparity. By the mid-second quarter Mason Plumlee was poked in the eye, Gary Harris was elbowed in the groin, and the Nuggets trailed 22 to 5 on free throw attempts. Capela had six attempts of his own, most coming in a series of possessions where there was little to no contact. At the timeout, Malone said to the official, “we’ve only shot five,” in relation to the disparity.
The foul shooting got Houston going and when Harden checked back in he was cooking. It wasn’t without some classic free throw attempts and some assistance from a change in game plan from the Nuggets.
From the five minute mark in the second quarter, when the Nuggets called timeout and Malone lobbied the officials, Harden had 14 of his 18 first half points including crossing Jamal Murray to the floor. The Rockets were +10 in that span giving them a 70-60 halftime lead.
The third quarter was a series of trading baskets between the teams, but the Nuggets were simply out shot so immensely from the 3-point line that they couldn’t chip away enough at the lead.
Denver had a chance with Harden out for the last couple of minutes in the third to make the game a manageable deficit to come back from. Mason Plumlee played a key role in the final minute, securing some defensive rebounds, converting and and-one, and knocking down two free throws to cut the lead to seven by the end of the third.
The Nuggets bench started to build some momentum with their defensive rotations and feeding Plumlee early in the fourth, but they were burned every time they made a defensive mistake. By the eight minute mark in the fourth the offensive firepower from the bench was fading with the Nuggets needing to turn to their starters down by nine.
The Rockets were initially able to extend their lead to 11 when Murray checked in as the Nuggets couldn’t hit shots to put the pressure on.
Gary Harris had a late hamstring tweak that kept him out for the remainder of the fourth quarter, so hopefully he will be able to go tomorrow night.
The Nuggets will try to bounce back quickly from this one as they’ll be playing in Miami just about 20 hours from now. Although the Nuggets five-game winning streak comes to an end they have an opportunity to keep a strong hold on the number one seed over the next week leading into their game at home vs. Golden State on Jan. 15.