(Photo via: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)
Denver ensures one game lead on first place heading into four game Western Conference test versus the Clippers, Suns, Trail Blazers, and Warriors
The Denver Nuggets (27-12) grinded out a win on the road against the Miami Heat (19-20) 103-99. Nikola Jokic had another triple-double with 29-10-11, but it was Torrey Craig who made key plays throughout the game in his first career double-double performance with 11 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 assists.
The late arriving Miami crowd gave the Nuggets a chance to set the tone and deflate the Heat early on. Although the Heat didn’t get anything established early on, the Nuggets struggles from the floor continued initially as they started 3-for-10.
Jamal Murray changed the energy in the American Airlines Arena with a couple of dunks including a poster on Hassan Whiteside.
Despite the Nuggets defense was fine in the early going, Whiteside dominated the offensive glass with four offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, the Nuggets offense was being held scoreless in several minute bouts. By getting the Heat in foul trouble the Nuggets were fortunate to get some points on the board at the line in the closing minutes of the opening frame. The low scoring first quarter ended up in favor of the Nuggets 24-18
Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk brought the energy for the Heat off the bench as the teams started to get their shots to fall, particularly Miami who tied the game at 33 before the halfway point of the quarter.
When Miami showcased their zone defense in the late second quarter they went on an 8-0 run, including two turnovers. Finally, Torrey Craig hit a couple threes, but the Nuggets struggled to get the Heat out of the zone with Malik Beasley missing badly on three separate 3-pointers.
The third quarter was a back and forth effort from both teams, headlined by Torrey Craig and Trey Lyles. Lyles scored his 2,000 point in the game and perhaps the milestone pushed him to have a big night as he kept the Nuggets in it.
Lyles didn’t do it alone. It took a career-high 12 rebounds through three quarters, including some big offensive boards, from Torrey Craig. Craig had nine points and four assists to go along with his rebounding performance as a surprisingly valuable player with Gary Harris out.
Denver fought turnover issues all night but that problem escalated in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets turned it over on consecutive possessions to extend their deficit in that category to 12-3.
After a rare Miami turnover Trey Lyles was able to convert a three from the top of the key and on the next possession secured the defensive rebound to set up transition Malik Beasley 3-pointer, finally knocking down his first look from deep on the night.
The threes put Denver on a 6-0 run that was quickly answered by the fresh legs of Miami, especially Dion Waiters as part of his big night. Miami’s answer happened to be a bit larger than Denver’s, 12-0 to be exact before the Nuggets got back on the board.
Unsurprisingly, Jokic took over late in this one as he has been in the recent grind-em-out games. Jokic made three straight post looks in the final minutes and secured his fourth triple-double with a look to fellow closer, Paul Millsap.
The Nuggets found themselves up two when Jokic was called for a travel on his post move, giving Miami possession. On that possession Jamal Murray stripped the ball out to the corner where Malik Beasley tied up Justice Winslow. Winslow won the jump and gave Miami the tying possession.
In an ideal situation, Jamal Murray had the ball in his hands with no shot clock and a chance for the Nuggets to take the lead. Murray, who had been forcing some looks early in the quarter, made the right read dumping the ball to Jokic who used his touch to float the ball straight up and in. The Nuggets sealed the deal not allowing the inbound pass to be completed cleanly and finishing it with a pair of Murray free throws.