Denver Nuggets 104, Philadelphia Sixers 95: Three Takeaways
What a difference fans make.
For the first time since March 9, 2020, Ball Arena welcomed spectators – just over 4,000 to be exact. It appeared to be a welcome spark for the Nuggets, who largely eased past the Sixers in a 104-95 win.
"To get the win is terrific, protect our home court; to do it in front of the K.S.E. [Kroenke Sports and Entertainment] employees, some of our families, and most importantly, the frontline workers, that was really neat. It was great having that energy back in the arena, we appreciate that," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said.
Jamal Murray, who has bemoaned the absence of fans at Ball Arena throughout the season, was clearly energized by those in attendance. The 24-year-old finished with 30 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 50 percent shooting. Tyrese Maxey was the top scorer for the Sixers with 13.
The Nuggets will now travel to Los Angeles to face the Clippers in a nationally-televised matchup (8 p.m. MT, TNT).
Here are the takeaways:
Fans bring the noise and energy
It’s been over a year since fans have inside Ball Arena. Their presence was felt from the opening tip.
After playing at home for months with prerecorded fan tracks, it was refreshing to see Nuggets fans stand until the team made its first shot. When Aaron Gordon received a beautiful alley opp pass from Murray, the thousands in attendance rose out of their socially-distanced seats.
Best of all might have come late in the game. With the Sixers bringing the deficit within 10, the fans were boisterous in shouting MVP for Nikola Jokić while he was at the free-throw line. The Joker would swish both attempts.
Tuesday’s fans in attendance were largely frontline workers and first responders. On Sunday, the Nuggets will welcome the general public when they take on the Magic.
Jamal Murray and MPJ were cooking
A positive return of having fans in the building was seeing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. fired up from the start of the contest. Murray poured in 16 of his final tally on 6 of 9 shooting. Porter added 14 in the opening 12 minutes and finished the game with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
"Every game, I'm just trying to give it my all that day, not worry about the next game, or the last game. Every game is unique, so I've just been focusing on the present," Porter Jr. said of his recent hot streak. "I have great teammates, when I play hard, they'll find me and I just think that we're just figuring it out, which is really cool.”
The Nuggets would lead by as many as 25 points before the Sixers began to rally.
With the Sixers cutting the score to six, it was Murray who once again took over in the fourth, putting up 12 in the final 12 minutes.
Nikola Jokić had another strong game, posting 21 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists.
Get on the break
Entering tonight’s game, the Nuggets were 18th in fast-break points at 11.3 per outing. Tuesday night, the group put 18 points overall in that area and nine in the first quarter.
Although Aaron Gordon had a quiet statistical night, with six points and four boards, his mobility on both ends has added another wrinkle to the Nuggets’ offense. It was largely evidenced in the second quarter where Murray caught Gordon on a fast break for a stunning alley-oop. The Sixers came into the contest with the No. 2-ranked defense but didn’t have counters for the Nuggets in the first half, giving up 68 points in the opening 24 minutes.
"We love him out there. Just defensively, we’re so long and versatile. We can just run the floor," Porter Jr. said. "There are so many different weapons. It feels like I’m just looking at my twin out there. It’s just cool to have another dude like that out there on the wing with me."
Although Philadelphia would step up defensively in the second half, holding the home team to 36, the first half is something Malone and his staff can build on.