Fourth-Quarter Defense Foundational to Nuggets' Success

Sometimes it only takes one good quarter of basketball. For the Denver Nuggets Thursday night, it was a strong performance in the fourth quarter, particularly on defense, that allowed them to escape with a 100-99 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

“In the NBA, if you want to be a good team you have to win games in different ways,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said, following the win. “We didn't play our best game tonight but down the stretch we got stops, we got rebounds and Nikola bailed us out with an unbelievable finish."

Denver’s defense came alive in the fourth quarter, holding Dallas to just 10 points after giving up 89 points up until that point. A Mavericks team that shot 12 of 29 from beyond the arc in the first three quarters missed all eight 3-pointers it attempted in the final frame.

"We switched on pick-and-rolls, changing our coverage,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “Our defense did an excellent job down the stretch."

Strong fourth-quarter defense is nothing new for Denver. In fact, the Nuggets own the league’s best defensive rating in the final 12 minutes of regulation this season. Denver’s 100.9 defensive rating in the fourth is tops in the league by a wide margin, with the Mavericks coming in at second at 104.6.

Denver’s improvement on the defensive end has been a big part of the team’s success this season. Overall, the Nuggets are just outside the top ten in defensive rating, but that is a strong mark for a team that ranks fourth on the other end of the floor.

In a game in which the Nuggets struggled with their 3-point shooting, finishing 8 of 29 from deep, it was a breath of fresh air for Malone when Denver’s defense fueled the late comeback.

"Without a doubt it was the defense that started the comeback,” Malone said. “The defense allowed us to get out and run and attack and play with pace. If we didn't turn up our defensive intensity, we never would have had a chance to get back into this game and win."

Denver’s defense picked up throughout the fourth quarter, pressuring the Mavericks’ ball-handlers and consistently forcing tough shots and turnovers. In the clip below, Mason Plumlee and Malik Beasley stand out with their movement around the court, ultimately forcing a shot-clock violation from the Mavericks.

Just as the Nuggets got back into the game and grabbed momentum, reserve point guard Monte Morris had a big stop against Dallas’ Luka Dončić, blocking the 20-year-old’s layup attempt.

Following that, Millsap was able to play strong defense against Dončić, forcing a tough 3-pointer from the rookie which ultimately led to a Beasley layup in transition. Millsap’s ability to switch and guard multiple positions is one of his best attributes, as it allows Denver to switch up its defensive schemes during games.

With just over a minute to go and the game tied at 97, Denver’s Gary Harris made one of the most important defensive plays of the night, stealing the ball from Dončić as he attempted to post-up Morris.

When it mattered most, the Nuggets’ defense came alive and propelled them to victory on a night in which shots weren’t readily falling.

"That's important when you know you can trust your defense late in games and in big moments,” Michael Malone said.