Denver Nuggets 102, Brooklyn Nets 105: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou Staff Writer

The Denver Nuggets got strong performances from Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić, but it wasn’t enough as the Brooklyn Nets won 105-102 at Barclays Center Sunday.
Jokić continued his recent uptick in scoring with 24 points to go along with 11 boards and six dimes. Spencer Dinwiddie had a dominant performance for Brooklyn, leading his team with 24 points and eight assists. 

The Nuggets got off to a slow start in the first quarter as they opened the game shooting 2 of 8 and saw Garrett Temple hit his first four shots to spark the Nets to a 18-10 lead. Murray and Jokić inspired the Nuggets in the second quarter. Jokić scored 11 of his 15 first-half points in the quarter and Murray capped off his seven points in the quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Nuggets their first lead heading into halftime. 
Brooklyn would pick up momentum in the third quarter as it took advantage of soft interior defending from Denver to score 26 points in the paint. The Nuggets would only muster six points in the paint in the same span. Denver’s bench came alive in the fourth quarter as Jerami Grant’s 12 points in the final 12 minutes were significant for coach Michael Malone’s team. With the Nuggets trailing 99-97, Murray’s eye as a playmaker was crucial as he found a wide-open Will Barton III for a three with the shot clock about to expire. After that point, however, Brooklyn would continue to attack the Nuggets in the paint and would seal the defeat for Denver as Murray wasn’t able to hit the game-tying shot with the game clock winding down. 

"Tough loss," Michael Malone told reporters after the game. "We took away their three-point line, but there was no resistance at the rim." 
Denver has lost four of its last five games and will be looking to turn things around in Philadelphia against the 76ers Tuesday. 
Here are the takeaways: 
Weak interior defending
The Nuggets were outscored in the paint 66-22, a recipe for disaster. If it wasn’t for the Nuggets’ hot hand from three, shooting 18-of-42, the margin of defeat in this contest could have been a lot larger. 

"It was just too easy for them throughout the night," Murray said to reporters. 

Dinwiddie feasted inside the Nuggets’ lane as he scored all of his 24 points within 10 feet of the basket. Considering the advantage Denver had in size, its disparity in points in the paint will likely be a focus of Malone, especially with the Sixers up next. 

"We had little presence at the rim," Malone said. "It was just easy layup after easy layup. That makes it really hard [to win]." 
Nuggets leading duo shine 
There have been only a handful of games this season where both Murray and Jokić, Denver’s franchise players, have both played well together in a game. That wasn’t the case in Brooklyn as both men got hot early.

Jokić’s assertiveness was particularly impressive against Brooklyn. Late in the fourth quarter, for example, the Serbian center used his considerable size advantage over Jarrett Allen to back into the rim and score at 30.7 second-mark. Murray was dominant in the first half as he scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He would finish the game with 21 points and five assists. 

It was the first time both Murray and Jokić had 20 points in a game since the Nuggets’ win over the Sixers at home on Nov. 8. 
Bench impresses 
After a quiet first half, the Nuggets’ second unit responded with a clutch final 24 minutes against the Nets, especially in the fourth quarter. 
Jerami Grant led the charge, hitting four of his five threes in the final 12 minutes of the game. That was pivotal for Denver as it went on a 15-7 run in the opening seven minutes of the fourth quarter. Grant wasn’t the only bench player to make an impact though. 
Mason Plumlee scored just two points, but he was a terror on defense as he came through with two momentum-changing blocks in the second half. Monte Morris was also effective as his back-to-back threes tied the game at 89 for Denver. 

"Monte and Jerami in that end of the third, beginning of the fourth, stepped up and made plays. They were aggressive and kept us in the game," Malone said. "When that group is playing well, you can buy your starters some more rest time." 
Despite the final result, the bench provided a much-needed lift for the Nuggets on both sides of the court. 


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