Denver Nuggets 96, Memphis Grizzlies 104: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

A second Memphis miracle wasn’t in the cards for the Denver Nuggets, as they fell 104-96 to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday. On the one-year anniversary of their 25-point comeback against the Grizzlies, the Nuggets fell behind early and couldn’t overcome a significant disadvantage inside the paint.

"Tough night. We lost the game in the first quarter when they jumped all over us," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "They dominated in transition. They had 76 in our paint, which is a joke. When you dig yourself that kind of a hole, it's going to be uphill the rest of the way."

The Nuggets (32-15) offense wasn’t smooth in the opening minutes of the game, which allowed Memphis (23-24) to jump out to an early lead. Denver scored just five points in the first six minutes of the game and committed two turnovers during this stretch. Memphis got out in transition early and built a 26-15 lead late in the first quarter. The Grizzlies accumulated 13 fast break points in the quarter as they held a 31-18 lead after one. Memphis also built a controlling 22-0 edge in points in the paint.

A 10-6 edge to begin the second quarter kickstarted Denver’s comeback attempt and cut Memphis’ lead to nine points. Three-point shooting fueled the Nuggets’ offense throughout this run and in the first half, as they knocked down nine threes in the half. After Denver cut the deficit down to just to five points, Memphis continued to attack the basket and extended the lead back to double-digits. Ultimately, the Grizzlies took a 63-50 lead into the halftime break.

Memphis continued to build on the lead to open the second half, as an 8-2 run in the opening four minutes of the third quarter extended the lead to 19 points. Denver continued to try and stay in the game and was able to cut the deficit down to 13 points late in the quarter. The Grizzlies secured an 82-66 lead heading into the final frame.

Despite Jerami Grant’s best efforts to begin the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies didn’t let up and brought the lead back up to 19. Grant knocked down two 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the quarter, but as was the case throughout the game, Memphis continued to put pressure on the basket. An 8-0 run by the Nuggets during the middle stretch of the quarter cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 11 points. However, Memphis responded with a 7-0 run and closed the game fairly comfortably.

"It's unfortunate," Malone added. "These are the dog days, we have eight games to go until the All-Star break. Everyone's tired, everyone's beat up, but we've got to be mentally tough."

Here are takeaways from Denver’s loss:

Denver lived behind the arc

The Nuggets’ offense was uncharacteristically built on 3-pointers on Tuesday, as they shot 17 of 45 from beyond the arc. Denver scored just 22 points in the paint and actually shot a higher percentage from deep than inside the arc, highlighting the team’s struggles around the basket.

The Nuggets rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point attempts per game and don’t shoot a high percentage as a team, but their shooting on Tuesday kept them somewhat in the game as Memphis continued to attack the basket and on the boards.

Memphis dominated inside

The Grizzlies scored 46 points inside the paint in the first half alone. Yes, you read that right. The 46 points marked the most any team has scored in the paint in a single half of basketball this season. The Nuggets had no answer for Memphis’ dribble penetration and constant activity around the basket, which helped Memphis build a sizeable lead despite Denver’s advantage from beyond the arc.

The onslaught didn’t slow down in the second half, as the Grizzlies finished with 76 points in the paint. When you are outrebounded and outscored by 54 points in the paint, it’s extremely difficult to overcome that and win on the road.

Starting frontcourt led the way for Denver

It wasn’t a highlight-worthy performance from the Nuggets on the offensive end, as the team struggled inside the arc and didn’t take care of the ball. Throughout this sluggish night, Denver was led by its starting frontcourt of Grant and Nikola Jokić. The two combined for 46 points, 17 rebounds and nine 3-pointers and were the leading scorers for the Nuggets on a night in which no other player scored more than 10 points.

Grant and Jokić have continued to gain cohesion as they start together with Paul Millsap continuing to miss time. Grant’s 3-point shooting has picked up in recent games, including a career-best night from beyond the arc on Tuesday with six made threes. Jokić struggled from the field but made some impressive passes on Tuesday that teammates failed to capitalize on.

"He (Jerami) has been playing well for us," Malone said. "He's shooting the ball well, defending and getting on the glass. He's a dynamic and versatile player. He was a silver lining on an otherwise tough night for a Denver Nuggets fan."

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