How the Denver Nuggets used a dominant third quarter to secure their best win of the season
Nikola Jokić picked up his third foul late in the second quarter. Gary Harris went down with an ankle injury right before the end of the first half. Then, shortly after the start of the third quarter, Paul Millsap collided head-on with Justise Winslow, forcing him to leave the game. In what was an early season test for the Denver Nuggets against a then 5-1 Miami Heat team, things weren’t looking good.
However, Denver’s third-quarter performance last night may have been exactly what the team needed to jump start their season. Although the Nuggets held a 10-point lead at the half, it was the third quarter that blew the game open and showcased its potential on both ends of the floor.
The Nuggets outscored the Heat 31-21 during the frame, as Miami shot just 28.6 percent from the field. Denver out-rebounded Miami 16-10 and had nine assists in the quarter, compared to just four for the Heat.
“It kind of reminded me of that Portland game to start the season when he picked up those three fouls and Mase [Mason Plumlee] and other guys were in the game and just played hard,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said following the win. “I thought our defense tonight was fantastic.”
While the ball was moving on offense, it was Denver’s defensive effort that truly secured the team’s most impressive win of the season. The Heat scored 10 of their 21 third-quarter points over the final three minutes of the quarter, highlighting how the Nuggets clamped down to start the second half. Miami went scoreless for nearly four minutes during the middle stages of the quarter as Denver began to pull away.
“They played well defensively-this is a good defensive team as well,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’re well-schooled, well-drilled.”
The Nuggets had two steals and two blocks in the quarter, which led to seven fast break points (Miami finished the quarter with no second chance or fast break points). With each stop, Denver’s confidence grew on offense and defense as the team continued to look more and more like the Nuggets fans and analysts expected to see this season.
“I saw signs of life, in terms of getting back to Denver Nuggets basketball - 35 assists, more energy, more passing and cutting, and obviously, the defense against a team that’s playing red hot overall, was fantastic,” Malone added.
On the offensive end, it was a balanced scoring attack for the Nuggets that did Miami in. Jerami Grant led the way with seven points in the quarter, but the team played with more pace and energy down the stretch of the competitive portion of the game. The Nuggets also connected on 4-of-9 from beyond the arc, compared to just 2-of-7 for the Heat.
“Yeah, Coach Malone has been putting more emphasis on it,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said following the win. “Just getting back, we’re too young to be playing at that pace. We just have to get back to it, but it starts with getting stops and going from there. I think, tonight, we were all having fun sharing the ball and that’s the type of basketball everyone is used to seeing. We’re slowly getting back to it.”
With another tough matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers coming on Friday, the Nuggets will have to keep up this defensive intensity and offensive flow as they search for their sixth win on the season.