Denver Nuggets 89, Philadelphia 76ers 103: Three Takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

Sometimes, it’s just not your night. And in the NBA, shorthanded teams can take advantage and pull off an upset, which is exactly what happened Thursday night at Ball Arena. The Denver Nuggets began their home back-to-back with a 103-89 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Denver jumped out to an 11-4 lead in the opening minutes, with Nikola Jokić and Will Barton combining for all 11 points in the opening five minutes. Philadelphia responded with a 12-4 run to take the lead shortly after the halfway point of the frame. Despite 15 points from Jokić, Denver was down 24-23 after one.

A 11-2 run to open the second quarter gave the 76ers a double-digit lead as Denver’s second unit struggled to find a rhythm. Early shooting struggles (3-of-12 from deep) hurt the Nuggets throughout the first half, but Denver caught fire from downtown towards the end of the half and ultimately made seven threes in the opening 24 minutes. Philadelphia took a 58-52 lead into the halftime break. Jokić dropped 27 points in 19 first-half minutes.

Philadelphia slightly extended its lead in the opening minutes of the second half as both teams traded buckets. Taking advantage of a few Nuggets turnovers, the 76ers built the lead back up to 16 with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter. Philadelphia continued to thrive beyond the arc, having shot 45.8 percent from downtown through three quarters on the way to taking an 87-69 lead into the final frame.

Denver cut the deficit down to 14 in the opening minutes of the fourth, but Philadelphia responded quickly to push the lead back up to 98-81 with six minutes remaining. With the game out of reach with four minutes remaining, the Nuggets went to their deep reserves to close Thursday’s contest.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s loss.

Jokić dominates early and often

When you drop 27 points, six rebounds, and two assists in a game, that would be considered an elite performance for the vast majority of NBA players.

Nikola Jokić had that stat line Thursday night… in the first half. The Serbian big man was unstoppable throughout the first 24 minutes of action, mixing in post-ups with 3-pointers to keep his defender off balance.

Jokić’s second half was much quieter, and Jokić ultimately finished Thursday’s game with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists in 35 minutes of action.

Second unit struggles hurt Denver

It’s hard to win games when you are dramatically outscored on the second unit throughout the competitive portion of Thursday’s game. Although Jokić and Barton thrived Thursday, the Nuggets didn’t get much production off the bench, while Philadelphia’s second unit (which only consisted of three players) chipped in effectively.

Shake Milton (12 points, four assists) and rookie big man Charles Bassey (12 points, seven rebounds) led the 76ers bench group Thursday night. Although Denver got some scoring from the second unit during the final minutes of the game, the bench group struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first three quarters.

Given Denver’s shorthanded nature due to the absences of Michael Porter Jr. and Zeke Nnaji, the second unit faced more pressure and a heavier load on the offensive end. Unfortunately for Denver’s bench, shots didn’t fall in the loss to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia thrived in the paint

Denver’s defense has been effective to begin the season as it relates to limiting shot attempts around the rim for opponents. However, that wasn’t the case Thursday night, as the 76ers got to the paint early and often, which resulted in 52 points in the paint (Denver finished with 38).

During the competitive portion of the game, Philadelphia shot 68.4 percent around the rim and 56 percent on shots between 4-and-14 feet of the basket. Combine that success inside the paint with hot 3-point shooting, and it’s no surprise that the 76ers offense thrived Thursday night.

Denver is right back in action Friday night against the Chicago Bulls (7 p.m. MT).

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