Denver Nuggets 113, Indiana Pacers 103: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Now that’s how you get ready for a much-needed break.

The Nuggets wrapped up the first half of their season with another dominant performance, rolling past Pacers in a 113-103 win in Indianapolis. It is the fourth-consecutive victory for Denver, which is playing some of its best basketball of the 2020-21 campaign.

Michael Porter Jr. led the way for Michael Malone’s team, powering through with a 24-point, 11-rebound showing on 64.3 percent shooting. Jamal Murray remained in his current hot streak, adding 23 points and four assists in the win.

Myles Turner was the headliner for the Pacers, with the center dropping 22 points and 12 rebounds. All-Star Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double in the contest with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists on 33.3 percent shooting.

The Nuggets will now have a week off before traveling to Memphis to face the Grizzlies (6 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).

"I'm really happy for the team, and we're going into the break with momentum," Nikola Jokić said after the game. "It [the current four-game win streak] is a big part of the season for me personally." 

Here are the takeaways:

Defense continues momentum

The built-in excuses were there.

Coming off arguably the best win of the season against the Bucks and a seven-day break looming, it would be easy for Malone’s group to go through the motions against Indiana. Instead, this was a group that was fired up from tip-off. Defense, once again, was the catalyst for the team.

"I believe this is the first time since 2011-12 that a Nuggets team went on the road and [was] undefeated [after] playing four or more games," Malone said. "I give our players a ton of credit, we talked all day long about focusing on the task at hand. The All-Star break will happen once the game is over. Our guys were able to do that [focus on the game vs. Indiana]." 

With the Pacers missing their best offensive player in T.J. Warren and another strong player in Caris LeVert, the Nuggets honed in on Sabonis. While the All-Star reserve put up a triple-double, he was largely held quiet on the evening and shot 5 of 15. But the Nuggets efforts didn’t stop there.

Denver played suffocating defense through the first three quarters of the game, holding Indiana to 42.9 percent – including 29.6 percent from downtown. While there were some lapses in the fourth quarter, with the home team hitting 50 percent from downtown. Still, the overall effort was impressive and the Nuggets forced 15 turnovers, which they converted to 26 points.

Prior to Thursday’s game, Denver held opponents to 43.7 percent shooting in its last three outings (fourth). The team was also fifth in defensive rating at 102.7.

"We deserve to be proud of how we've been resilient," Michael Porter Jr. said about the Nuggets' recent uptick. "We've had a lot of injuries and it really hasn't slowed us down." 

Michael Porter Jr continues strong run

Porter Jr.’s got his groove back and positional switch might be a part of it. Since being moved to the power forward spot following the loss to the Hawks on Feb. 21, the second-year forward has been playing some of his best basketball of the season. In the five-games prior to Thursday’s contest, the 6-foot-10 forward averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor – including 51.7 percent from downtown. With Porter Jr. not having a lot of set plays called for him on offense, those numbers are impressive.

"I had a good game and once you get back into rhythm, then you just start flowing," Porter Jr. said about his current streak. 

He carried that strong play into Thursday’s outing. With Nikola Jokić having an average game by his standards with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists, Porter Jr. stepping up on his end was pivotal for Malone’s team. In many ways, his performance was eerily similar to his breakout performance against the same team just over a year ago. In that Jan. 2, 2020 game, also a road win for Denver, Porter had 25 on 11 of 12 shooting.

Blue Arrow keeps firing

Murray had another strong two-way performance, this time against the Pacers, showcasing his increasing confidence.

The guard shot 8 of 15 against a usually stout Pacers defense and had a key impact on the other end as well as he added two steals. He was also a part of the game that helped keep Malcolm Brogdon to a quiet 4 of 14 night.

It will be exciting to see if Murray can keep this run of play going in the second half.

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