Denver Nuggets 119, Memphis Grizzlies 110: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets put their struggles on Christmas Day behind them with a 119-110 victory against the Grizzlies at Pepsi Center Saturday afternoon.

Nikola Jokić powered Denver with a game-high 31 points and notched his 35th career triple-double, adding 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Jaren Jackson Jr. led Memphis with 20 points.

The Nuggets got off to a dominant start as Jokić and Mason Plumlee sparked a 16-6 run to give the team a 26-11 lead after the opening 12 minutes. The Grizzlies had no answers defensively for Jokić in the first quarter as the Serbian big man dropped 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Denver would build a 23-point advantage in the second quarter, with Michael Porter Jr. making an impact with eight points. Jamal Murray might have pulled off one of the best plays of 2019 with a thunderous slam over Tyus Jones late in the second quarter. However, Memphis would fight back with a rally before halftime, going on a 17-5 run to cut the deficit to 11 points.

Will Barton III would help the Nuggets reassert themselves in the second half. The veteran small forward scored seven points and dished out three assists to help his team take a 15-point lead midway in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Memphis continued to rally but couldn’t slow down Denver’s offense which matched the visitors bucket for bucket. The home team would hold on to secure a nine-point victory.

"We'll take the win, but we have to be a lot better," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. 

The Nuggets host their final home game of 2019 against the visiting Sacramento Kings on Sunday.

Here are the takeaways

 Nikola Jokić, Mason Plumlee dominate the paint

Nikola Jokić’s dominant December continued with another triple-double, this time against the Grizzlies. Jokić now has 35 career triple-doubles, which is seven away from Houston Rockets star James Harden in the NBA’s all-time triple-doubles list. Jokic has amassed three triple-doubles in December and has seven on the season. Jokić wasn’t the only Nuggets’ frontcourt player to star in this contest.

Mason Plumlee would play one of his best games of the season as a surprise replacement for the injured Paul Millsap in the starting lineup. Jerami Grant has been typically called upon when Millsap sits, but with the Grizzlies having one of the lengthiest frontcourts in the NBA, Malone opted for additional size. It was a move that paid dividends as Plumlee finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and shot 60 percent in his first start of the season. Jokić and Plumlee were a significant reason why the Nuggets were able to outscore the Grizzlies 66-58 in the paint.

"It was good [to play with Jokić]," Plumlee said. "We played together a lot in the past, so it's a comfortable lineup. I think we took advantage of Jokić in the block....It was a good start." 

Porter Jr. shines

Porter Jr. got minutes with the game in the balance and responded with arguably his best performance as a Nugget.

Denver’s highly-touted rookie finished with 11 points and four rebounds, making several impactful plays throughout the contest. It was his eight points in the second quarter that allowed Denver to build its biggest lead of the night at 45-22.

More importantly, Porter Jr. showed some impressive range throughout the game. He hit a career-high three shots from downtown (on five attempts). The 21-year-old continues to make strides in that part of his game as he has seen his three-point percentage go up from 14.3 percent in November to 41.2 percent in December. If he continues to improve in knocking down shots from downtown, it could open up more minutes for the first-year player.

Malone was happy with what he saw from Porter Jr. on both ends of the court. 

"He's been getting into a routine, into a rhythm," Malone said. "He's been our first guy off the bench in the last five or six games. He knows his number is going to be called and he's being aggressive and good shots. He had a couple of really good possessions on defense tonight and I think that end of the floor is slowing down for him...He's going to be a really good player." 

Barton III gets going

Barton III came close to joining Jokić with a triple-double of his own as he had 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists. The small forward proved pivotal for Malone’s team in the third quarter, where Memphis was close to tying up the game.

"I think he was really big during a stretch where we needed him to be," Malone said. "I thought Will was terrific in terms of making plays for guys, scoring and being aggressive...All season long, Will has impacted the game in different areas. Tonight was just another example of that."  

The Grizzlies cut the Nuggets’ deficit to just five before Barton III got going. He was also clutch in the fourth quarter, where he added another seven points to help his team hold off another rally. Barton III’s resurgence is a significant reason why the Nuggets are 22-9.  

 

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