Denver Nuggets 118, Chicago Bulls 112: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets were down six players but refused to use it as an excuse as they edged a hungry, young Bulls team in a 118-112 win.

Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, Facundo Campazzo, Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton and Markus Howard were all ruled out of the contest prior to Monday's game. Thankfully, the Nuggets' starters largely responded with another strong night. 

Nikola Jokić, once again, was brilliant as he led the way for Denver with 39 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists to just one turnover. The center shot a sizzling 60.7 percent in the process. Chicago was led by Zach LaVine, who had 23 points, nine boards, and five assists.

The Nuggets were largely solid on defense on the night, holding the Bulls to just 31.6 percent shooting from downtown and 44.7 percent overall. Michael Malone’s team will now make the quick trip to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks (7 p.m., ALTITUDE).

Here are the takeaways:

Big three standout

With the Nuggets down six players, the team desperately needed its leading trio to be at its best. Fortunately, Jokić, Jamal Murray (24 points), and Michael Porter Jr. (17 points and 15 rebounds) were all up to the task as they combined for 80 points on 61.5 percent shooting. It was an incredibly efficient performance from Denver’s leading players

Jokić and Murray would take over the contest late to ice the win. Despite being double-teamed on almost every possession and taking some hard contact, Jokić would drop an incredible 17 points on 70 percent shooting.

"Every play call for me was to get him the ball," Malone said of the fourth-quarter heroics. "That's the luxury of having an MVP candidate." 

"We just kept on running the same play honestly," Murray added. "He was scoring every time, there was no need to change anything." 

Murray also played his part, hitting two clutch threes en route to eight points in the fourth quarter.

The first of those two threes in the fourth quarter saw Murray move up in the franchise’s all-time three-pointers made list at 631. He would finish the game at 632 and is now 138 three-pointers away from tying the Nuggets’ record set by J.R. Smith at 768.

Nuggets overcome injuries

Denver dressed just 11 players and its performance, at times, was reflective of that. This was a disjointed showing from a team that started the game brightly, leading by as many as 15 and taking a seven-point advantage into the break.

The third quarter almost cost the Nuggets the game, largely due to turnovers once again. The visitors held the Bulls to just 37 percent shooting overall, but the home team was able to finish the quarter outscoring the visitors by five. Chicago forced Denver into seven turnovers in the third quarter, scoring five off of those miscues. The team also had the edge in getting to the line, taking nine free throws in the quarter.

With Denver missing several key personnel, it was difficult for the team to get the usual jolt from the bench it normally does. The group was outscored 39-17 by their counterparts. With the bench largely struggling for firepower, the Nuggets got solid performances from Will Barton III and Monte Morris. Barton III finished with 14 points and six boards while Morris would add seven points and four dimes.

Vlatko shines in extended minutes

Although the Nuggets would love to have their full contingent, a positive is seeing young players take advantage of the opportunities they are given. Vlatko Čančar has shown flashes he can provide a jolt of energy as a frontcourt reserve and had his best game as a Nugget so far with career-highs in points (eight) and minutes (21).

"I thought Vlatko played really well for us and gave us some good minutes," Malone said. 

Malone went to Čančar early as the forward was his first player off the bench Monday. Čančar immediately rewarded the decision by hitting a three. The 23-year-old also had a helping hand on the glass, adding four boards. While the 6-foot-11 player is still finding his footing on the Nuggets, he was one of the most promising young players in Spain prior to his arrival in 2019. Against the Bulls, he showcased why.

"I'm really happy for him because he put a lot of work [in]," Jokić said. "He knows how to play team basketball...that's where he's the best." 

"I think he will get better just by playing [more]. He's going to learn coverages and learn players and he's going to get better." 

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