Denver Nuggets 114, Portland Trail Blazers 99: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

It’s good to be back home. 

The Nuggets exploded on offense to snap a three-game skid with a dominant 114-99 rout of the visiting Portland Trail Blazers. 

"After a very tough road trip and having lost three in a row, we needed to come home and find a way to win to feel better about ourselves. To do it in front of a good team, a division rival, in front of a great crowd makes it that much better," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. 

Denver forward Jerami Grant knocked down five threes and finished with 20 points to tie for the team lead in scoring. Portland was paced by Hassan Whiteside, who had 33 points and 11 rebounds. Former Nuggets All-Star Carmelo Anthony chipped in 20 points. 

The Nuggets’ searing touch from downtown started in the first quarter with the team hitting an impressive seven of their first 12 attempts. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris led the charge in the opening 12 minutes with two threes apiece. Denver was also effective in containing Portland’s trio of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and the aforementioned Anthony to a combined 3-of-10 shooting in the first quarter. Denver would finish the first half with a nine-point lead and had three double-digit scorers, Murray, Harris and Grant. 

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Portland would fight its way back into the game in the third quarter as it went on a 9-4 run sparked by Anthony, who had five points during the stretch. The Trail Blazers would cut the score to 78-79 before the Nuggets responded with a 19-4 surge that started at the end of the third quarter and carried into the fourth. Michael Malone’s team would pad their lead to 18 points, seizing control of the game. 

Denver controlled the boards 48-35 and scored 20 points off of Portland’s nine turnovers. The team now continues its season-long five-game homestand with a visit from the Thunder Saturday. 

Here are three takeaways: 

Bench sizzling

The Nuggets’ second unit scored just 12 points against the Sixers on Tuesday. They rebounded in a big way against the Blazers. 

Denver’s bench outscored Portland’s reserves by a whopping 46-9 margin and Grant led the charge with a dominant performance. He was pinpoint from downtown, hitting 5 of 6, and added five boards and two steals. The Nuggets are 5-2 when Grant hits at least two three pointers.

“He’s being aggressive," Harris explained. "He’s putting pressure on the defense. He’s knocking down shots, getting to the rim, getting fouled. He’s doing it all. He’s aggressive like that on the court.”

Grant wasn’t the only standout though. Monte Morris finished with 11 points, seven assists, two steals on 50 percent shooting with zero turnovers. His exceptional playmaking was the catalyst for the bench’s dominance Thursday. 

Lastly, Torrey Craig tallied just five points, but was a significant part of why the Nuggets were able to hold the Blazers to just 30 percent shooting from downtown. This was a complete performance from Denver’s reserves. 

Backcourt gets going

Jamal Murray appeared to have no ill effects from the trunk contusion he suffered against the Sixers Tuesday and finished the night with a 12-point, six-rebound performance. 

Murray also saw his backcourt partner Gary Harris respond with a much-needed top performance on offense. Harris’ ability to lock down opponents on defense is well-regarded, but he has the skillset to be an effective scorer as well. Harris finished the night with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. 

Entering Thursday’s contest, Harris was averaging 10.6 points while shooting 42.6 percent (35.4 percent from downtown) from the floor in his last 10 games. He appeared to be moving in the right direction with 14 points and five assists in the Nuggets’ loss against Philadelphia, showing a great two-man connection with Nikola Jokić. Against Portland, that continued with Jokić assisting Harris on two of his three makes from downtown. It was definitely an encouraging sign for the Nuggets’ offense, which has struggled in the first quarter of the season. 

"It felt good [to hit the threes], if you got open shots, you got to take them," Harris said.

Point Jokić

Jokić is quietly enjoying his best stretch of the 2019-20 campaign and it continued against Portland as he finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. 

Converting on threes has been crucial for the Serbian big man, as he’s hit at least one in his last four games and hit 2 of 5 against the Blazers. When Jokić makes shots from downtown, it makes the Nuggets lethal on offense as it opens up the floor. Another exciting development for Malone and his coaching staff.

"It just spreads the floor," Harris explained. "Especially when he's at the top of the key, if he's out there, it keeps the [opposing] big out of the paint. If the bigs are down low, we hit him [for a three-point shot] and if he knocks the three then we're rolling."

Jokić is 6-of-20 from downtown in his last four games. 

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