Denver Nuggets 111- 91 LA Clippers: Three takeaways from the second preseason game

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

The Denver Nuggets used a second-half defensive resurgence to come back and defeat the L.A. Clippers 111-91 Thursday. The win took Denver to 2-0 in the preseason and saw Nikola Jokić make his season debut. However, it was the second unit that stole the show for the Nuggets in Los Angeles, as every player off the bench had a positive plus-minus in the win.

"I give our second unit a lot of credit," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "They got us back into the game. Our second-half defense was great. There was a much more different energy level in the second half."

The Nuggets were plagued by the turnover bug in the first half, which helped the Clippers jump out to an early lead. Fueled by Kawhi Leonard in his Clippers debut, L.A. grabbed a 29-23 lead after one quarter of play. Leonard dropped seven points and four assists in the quarter. Seven turnovers by Denver hurt the offense, but the team shot 52.9 percent from the field.

It was more of the same in the second quarter, as the Clippers withstood a comeback attempt led by Malik Beasley and Denver’s second unit. Beasley dropped 12 points (on 4-of-4 shooting from the field) in the half, while Mason Plumlee dished out four assists in nine first-half minutes. However, eight turnovers from the Nuggets allowed L.A. to run out in transition and have more scoring opportunities, which led to a 61-52 Clippers lead at the half.

Denver outscored LA 29-15 in the third quarter to grab an 81-76 lead heading into the final frame. Once again it was the second unit that led the charge, as the Nuggets closed the quarter on an 8-0 run. Denver’s defense clamped down in the final minutes of the quarter as LA struggled to generate consistent offense.

The momentum carried over into the fourth quarter for the Nuggets, as they used a suffocating defense to pull away early in the final quarter. Michael Porter Jr. checked in for his first action of the night in the quarter and scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Denver’s defense turned the game around as they secured a second-straight preseason victory.

"I think we can be better on the defensive end and start off better," Beasley said following the game. "There are some things to take away (from this win) but also some things to work on."

Here are some takeaways from Denver’s second preseason game:

Malik Beasley and the second unit continue to impress

Beasley was arguably the best player on the floor for Denver in the first half. Not only did the 22-year-old guard not miss a shot in nine minutes of play, he also grabbed four rebounds, one steal and shot 3 of 3 from the free-throw line. Beasley finished the game with 16 points (6-of-8 shooting), six rebounds and two assists.

"I felt good. Even last game I felt great," Beasley said. "My main focus has been on the defensive end, so a lot is paying off on the offensive end because I'm getting rebounds, steals and stuff like that."

Beasley has picked up more ball-handling responsibilities in the second unit throughout training camp and preseason action, whether that be in the half court or running in transition. This further diversifies Denver’s second-unit offense, which already has two steady playmakers in Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee. Plumlee showcased that passing ability Thursday as he finished with six assists (to go along with eight points and four rebounds), a few of them going to cutting teammates around the rim.

Finally, Jerami Grant continued to impress in his second game as a Nugget. Coming off a career-year from beyond the arc, the 25-year-old forward looks more comfortable taking 3-pointers in Denver’s free-flowing offense. His screen-setting and defensive versatility were also on display Thursday, as he spent several possessions guarding Leonard.

Nikola Jokić makes preseason debut

After a summer spent playing in the FIBA World Cup, Nuggets head coach has decided to strategically rest Jokić throughout the preseason. The Serbian big man made his 2019-20 preseason debut Thursday and finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals in 22 minutes of action.

Denver’s offense will continue to flow through the All-NBA First Team center, while Jokić’s presence on the boards was a welcome sight for Malone. Moving forward, the focus will be on getting Jokić enough playing time with his new teammates while also ensuring that he is in game-condition for the grueling grind of an 82-game regular season.

Defense takes over in the second half

While turnovers helped LA get easy scoring opportunities in the first half, the Nuggets righted the ship on offense in the second half, which allowed their defense to get set in half-court sets. The result was a very promising defensive performance Thursday, as Denver held the Clippers to just 30 points in the second half.

The second unit’s energy and activity in the passing lanes helped turn the game around late in the third quarter, which carried over into the fourth quarter as Denver’s end-of-the-bench players checked in to the game.

The Nuggets were the 10th-ranked defense last season, but with the addition of Jerami Grant and the continuity the team enjoys heading into this season, the hope is that the defense can take another step in 2019-20.

The Nuggets continue their preseason schedule on Monday when they face the Phoenix Suns.

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