Denver Nuggets 107, Dallas Mavericks 106: Three takeaways
Sometimes the post-up can be a valuable play.
For Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets, it was the driving force in a 107-106 victory against the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday to close out a season-long five-game road trip for Denver.
"I couldn't be prouder of our guys, to finish a long road trip 3-2," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said.
Both teams traded buckets to begin the game before Dallas eventually opened up a six-point lead midway through the first quarter. Jokić’s passing ability was on full display early as he had four assists during this opening stretch of the game. As the quarter progressed, the teams began to battle inside the paint, and there were a combined 32 points scored inside the paint in the quarter. Ultimately, the Mavericks held a 32-27 lead after one quarter. Jerami Grant was active early in place of Paul Millsap, as he dropped 11 points and two blocks in the quarter.
Denver’s second-unit sparked a 10-6 run to open the second quarter as the Nuggets continued to chip away at Dallas’ lead. The two teams continued to trade baskets during the middle stages of the quarter before Denver took a brief one-point lead. However, Dallas was able to regain a 59-56 lead heading into the halftime break.
The back-and-forth nature of the game continued to begin the second half as neither team could gain separation. Luka Doncic continued to make his presence felt, scoring seven-straight points for the Mavericks during the middle stages of the third quarter. However, Dallas’ lead didn’t grow beyond five points during this stretch, as timely baskets from Jokić kept Denver in the game. Jokić dropped a career-best 21 points in the third quarter alone as Dallas would take an 89-86 lead into the final quarter.
Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee sparked a 7-0 run early in the third quarter which briefly tied the game at 93. Denver’s second-unit continued to attack the basket and took the lead back with just under eight minutes remaining. As the scoring dried up on both sides, neither team could pull away as the game was tied at 101 with just over three minutes remaining. The teams traded defensive stops down the stretch before Jokić knocked down a go-ahead shot with 7.9 seconds remaining. Denver’s defense stepped up in the final possession ss Dallas couldn’t get a shot off.
"He (Jokić) is our go-to player and MVP candidate for a reason," Malone added. "At the end of games the ball will be in his hands to make the right play and tonight it was to score."
Here are three takeaways from Denver’s win:
Grant impressed in Millsap’s place
Although it wasn’t his first start of the season, Jerami Grant had one of his more impressive performances against the Mavericks on Wednesday, particularly on the defensive end. In the first quarter, Grant had one of the highlight sequences of the game as he blocked Doncic’s shot twice in one possession, including following a one-on-one defensive sequence. In the second half, Grant also forced a travel from Doncic and drew a charge.
"Tonight was the Jerami Grant that we traded for," Malone said. "Three blocked shots, length, athleticism, driving the basketball, five rebounds. When Jerami plays with that kind of energy and attack mindset, he becomes a difference maker."
Meanwhile, on the offensive end Grant cut to the rim admirably and got to the charity stripe often. Denver’s marquee offseason addition finished with 15 points, five rebounds and three blocks on 3-of-6 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line.
"They (teammates) just made it easy for me, getting to the basket," Grant said. "Then I hit a triple and was able to get to the free throw line. It feels good to get the win, we just have to be consistent throughout the whole season."
Jokić continued to light it up
Following his 47-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, Jokić got off to a slow scoring start against Dallas as he established his playmaking early on. However, once the game shifted to the third quarter, the Serbian big man took over.
"I told him to stay with it and that we're going to keep going to him," Malone said when asked about what he told Jokić at the half. "He's a great player. Give them credit because they guarded him well in the first half. But can you guard him for all 48 minutes? That's a tall task to ask of anybody and that's why he's a great player."
As mentioned earlier, Jokić scored 21 points in the third quarter alone. A mix of 3-pointers, post-ups and free throws fueled his impressive scoring night, which helped pace Denver’s offense in Dallas. In the end, Denver’s All-Star big man finished with 33 points, seven assists and six rebounds on 12-of-20 shooting from the field.
Morris/Plumlee connection was key off the bench
In what has become a staple off the Nuggets’ bench dating back to last season, Morris and Plumlee spearheaded Denver’s second-unit attack. Morris provided his usual blend of dependable playmaking and timely scoring as he finished with nine points and four assists.
"The energy, the passion (was impressive)," Malone said. "I give Mason a lot of credit because he's playing behind a First-Team All-NBA center. I thought Mason in those first six minutes of the fourth was incredible."
Plumlee was active across the board with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in his 17 minutes of action. The two stabilized the game in the first half for Denver before leading the crucial charge early in the fourth quarter.