Denver Nuggets 113, Orlando Magic 104: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Oh, what a difference a halftime break can make. The Denver Nuggets looked like two completely different teams in their 113-104 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. After falling behind by 19 points, everything changed for Denver, who dominated on both ends of the floor throughout the majority of the second half to win their fourth-consecutive game.

"In that first half I don't think we guarded anybody," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "In that third quarter, (Orlando) had only 16 points and we had 13 straight stops. And now we can get out and run, play with pace and attack."

The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair, as neither team could gain separation. The Magic closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to gain the early advantage, as Orlando began to knock down some 3-pointers. The Nuggets shot just 1 of 6 from beyond the arc, but their 20 points in the paint kept them in the game.

Denver slowly began to chip away at the lead to begin the second quarter, but Orlando stood firm and maintained a lead throughout the frame. D.J. Augustin broke out in the quarter and scored 10 points to help fuel Orlando’s offense. Orlando continued to win the battle from deep, as it knocked down six 3-pointers in the half. Despite Jamal Murray’s best efforts (12 points in the half), the Magic closed the quarter on a 20-7 run and took a 60-45 lead into the halftime break.

Paul Millsap led the charge for the Nuggets as they looked to get back into the game. Millsap scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter as Denver cut the deficit to 10 points. The onslaught continued for the Nuggets, who used a 24-0 run to take a 74-69 lead. The Nuggets continued to pour it on down the stretch of the quarter and took an 84-76 lead into the final frame. Orlando was held to 5-of-23 shooting in the quarter and struggled mightily on both ends of the floor.

"Like I just told him (Millsap), welcome back," Malone added. "Twelve rebounds for him, five offensive. He looked healthy, he looked rested. Paul is a hell of a player. It's great to have him back. Obviously, he was a big part of tonight's win."

As expected, Orlando wasn’t going to go down without a fight, as the Magic slowly chipped away at Denver’s lead to begin the fourth quarter. A slight 11-7 advantage for the Magic cut the Nuggets’ lead to four points with around eight minutes remaining in the game. After Denver stabilized its play on both ends of the floor and extended their lead back up to eight points, Orlando cut the lead down to just two points with a little over four minutes remaining.

However, that would be the closest Orlando would get down the stretch, as key baskets from Murray led Denver to close out the victory. Murray finished with 33 points in the victory.

"To go back to last year, we were one of the better teams in the league in closing close games," Malone said. "A lot of that was Jamal and Nikola playing two-man game, space the floor, let them play off each other. I think you kind of saw some of that again tonight. That was great."

Here are three takeaways from Denver’s win:

Third quarter was the difference

As the offense got going in the third quarter, Denver’s defense tightened up and frustrated the Magic offense. Orlando went six minutes without a single point, which allowed the Nuggets to take the lead as they continued to convert on the offensive end.

"Guys just want to win," Millsap said. "We really weren't ourselves in the first half. It was sloppy. We weren't getting any stops, weren't making any shots. In the second half, we know what our staple is and that's on the defensive end, and finally we got some stops and got out and ran."

Both Murray and Millsap were key contributors in the quarter. Millsap dropped 14 points in the frame, while Murray chipped in with 13 points as Denver gained momentum. Ultimately, the Nuggets outscored Orlando 39-16 in the quarter, which fueled the comeback victory.

A Jekyll and Hyde performance from Denver

Things weren’t looking good for the Nuggets at the halftime break. Down 60-45 to an Orlando team on the second night of a back-to-back, Denver was being outplayed in all facets of the game. However, basketball is a game of runs, and what happened in the aforementioned third quarter run fueled a dominant second-half performance from the Nuggets.

Denver was more active on defense in the second half, which gave confidence to the offense, which moved the ball effectively to find quality looks each time down the floor. After scoring 60 points in the first half, Orlando was held to just 44 in the second half.

While Malone would surely prefer a more balanced performance moving forward, it is good to know that the Nuggets have the chops on both ends of the floor to make serious comebacks.

The Nuggets won on the boards and in transition

There are many ways to win a basketball game in the NBA, but if you outrebound your opponent and score more points in transition, you certainly set yourself up for success. That’s exactly what the Nuggets did on Wednesday, as they outrebounded Orlando 52-35 and scored 17 fast break points, compared to just nine for the Magic.

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