Denver Nuggets 101, Indiana Pacers 98: Three Takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer

In the NBA, it’s always a next man up mentality. With Nikola Jokić and Michael Porter Jr. out for Wednesday’s contest against the Indiana Pacers, the Denver Nuggets needed timely contributions from other players, which is just what they got in a 101-98 victory.

Denver was able to gain a slight advantage midway through the opening quarter, with eight points from Will Barton fueling the 10-6 lead. Barton finished with 10 points and two assists in the frame as the Nuggets took a 23-20 lead into the second quarter. Rookie Bones Hyland chipped in with three points and two assists off the bench in the quarter.

As Hyland continued to initiate the second-unit offense, Denver’s lead extended to 30-22 early in the second quarter. The rookie guard dished out four assists in his first nine minutes of action, with most going to Zeke Nnaji, who received an early opportunity with Jokić missing Wednesday’s contest. However, a 16-4 run from Indiana cooled Denver’s momentum and gave the Pacers the lead late in the first half. A last-second 3-pointer from Monte Morris sent the two teams to the locker room tied at 44.

Indiana used a stretch of hot 3-point shooting to regain the lead during the early stages of the third quarter, while Myles Turner showcased his rim protection with three blocks during this stretch. However, as was the case in the first half, Barton continued to produce for Denver, and a mini 7-0 scoring run from the veteran gave Denver a 57-56 lead. A late flurry from Hyland and Nnaji helped the Nuggets take a 69-65 lead into the final frame.

The two teams traded buckets to open the fourth quarter, with Denver clinging to a 79-78 lead with seven minutes remaining. Will Barton checked back in and proceeded to hit two 3-pointers to help Denver slightly extend the lead up to four with just under five minutes remaining. Indiana slowly clawed back and with just under one minute remaining, the Nuggets’ lead was down to two points. A timely block from Jeff Green and another bucket from Barton gave Denver some breathing room with 27 seconds remaining.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s win.

Barton’s strong start continues

When the Nuggets have needed him most this season, Barton has certainly delivered. The 30-year-old is posting several career highs this season and continued his hot start to the season with 30 points and six rebounds Wednesday night. Barton also knocked down six 3-pointers in the win.

Without both Jokić and Porter Jr., Denver’s offense was in desperate need for some shot creation, which Barton provided. Barton’s unique blend of scoring and playmaking makes him an incredibly versatile and valuable player for Denver, which was on display Wednesday night.

Hyland and Nnaji fuel second-unit success

As mentioned earlier, the Nuggets’ rotation shifted with Jokić out, which provided an opportunity for Nnaji to fill in some backup frontcourt minutes.

It didn’t take long for Hyland and Nnaji to build on-court chemistry Wednesday night, as Hyland routinely setup the sophomore big man for quality looks around the rim. Hyland’s playmaking stood out Wednesday, as he found himself with the ball in his hands more often than usual, providing an opportunity for the rookie to showcase his ability to initiate the offense.

In the end, Hyland finished with 12 points and four assists in his 22 minutes of action, while Nnaji chipped in with a career-high 19 points and five rebounds. Opportunities like Wednesday’s game won’t come very often for Denver’s young players, so circumstances presented them with valuable playing time against Indiana.

Defense steps up once again

Continuing the trend to start the season, Denver relied on its defense against the Pacers, holding Indiana to 98 points. The Nuggets had success forcing turnovers and capitalizing on the other end of the floor, which helped a shorthanded Mile High squad generate some easy offense.

Indiana finished with 15 turnovers, and Denver scored 15 points off those mistakes. The Nuggets continue to thrive on the defensive end of the floor, which has helped push them to a 7-4 record.

Denver is back in action Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks (7 p.m. MT).


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