Denver Nuggets 113, New Orleans Pelicans 106: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Friday’s game between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans wasn’t for the faint of heart. In game played at a frantic pace in front of an energized crowd, the Nuggets used a big advantage on the offensive glass to fuel a 113-106 victory. The win wrapped up Denver’s road three-game trip, in which the Nuggets went 2-1.

Luckily for the Nuggets, Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr. were able to return from their injuries. Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee remained out.

"I'm just proud that our guys pulled this one out to go 2-1 on the road trip where we're still undermanned," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "I thought Wes and the coaches did a great job and the players did a hell of a job."

Nikola Jokić came out in attack mode to begin the game, as he directly contributed to the first 12 points for the Nuggets with eight points and two assists. The Serbian big man even added two steals in the opening minutes of the first quarter for good measure. Jokić finished the quarter with 12 points as Denver held a 37-28 lead. The Nuggets moved the ball to the tune of eight assists in the first quarter as the offense found a rhythm early. The 37 points marked the highest-scoring first quarter of the season for Denver.

The Nuggets (31-14) got out in transition and hustled on the boards to begin the second quarter as their lead grew to double digits at 43-32. However, Denver went cold on the offensive end and New Orleans (17-28) was able to chip away at the lead and ultimately cut it to just two points midway through the quarter. The Nuggets stabilized and pushed their lead back up to double digits late in the half through hustle on the offensive glass. Denver finished the first half with a 15-6 offensive rebound advantage as it took a 63-56 lead into the halftime break.

Although the Nuggets were able to withstand New Orleans’ initial comeback attempt to begin the second half, that wouldn’t be the case during the middle stages of the third quarter. As Denver went cold on offense once again, the Pelicans used a 14-2 run to take a 72-70 lead midway through the quarter. During this stretch, Malone was ejected for disputing several foul calls against Denver. The Nuggets responded with a 22-6 run of their own to regain the advantage and momentum. As a result, Denver went into the final quarter with a 94-82 lead.

The fourth quarter got off to a hectic start as both teams struggled to take care of the ball. The Smoothie King Center crowd came alive following a highlight block from Zion Williamson, which added to the atmosphere of the game as the two teams battled back and forth. After Denver made five-straight stops on defense, the Pelicans were able to cut the lead to five points with just over seven minutes remaining. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Torrey Craig and Monte Morris pushed the Nuggets’ lead to 105-92 with just over five minutes remaining.

New Orleans made a late push with an 8-0 scoring run which cut Denver’s lead to just five with a little over three minutes remaining. After New Orleans cut the lead to three with under one-minute remaining, Will Barton III stepped up with a clutch layup to essentially clinch the win.

"Tonight was a character win," Malone added. "The best thing you can say about our group is that we're resilient, tough and don't use the readily available excuses around us. We find a way."

Here are takeaways from Denver’s win:

Denver dominated the offensive glass

If there was one constant throughout this back-and-forth game, it was the Nuggets’ complete control the boards and specifically the offensive glass. Denver’s ability to generate multiple second-chance opportunities within a single trip down the floor helped fuel the impressive offensive performance.

The Nuggets finished with a 24-12 advantage on the offensive glass and on a night in which shots weren’t falling (Denver shot just 37.7 percent from the field), that strength helped push the team to a big road victory.

"In Houston we did not rebound the ball," Malone said. "To outrebound them and have 24 offensive rebounds, it showed just how much this game meant to us. We did not want to get swept by them. To pull this out with so many guys playing hard, it was great to watch."

The Joker was at his best

As mentioned earlier, Jokić set the tone early for the Nuggets in the first quarter and he never looked back. Denver’s All-Star big man finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in a game in which the Nuggets needed him to be at his best given the shorthanded roster.

"He has to be the focal point of everything we do," Malone said. "Something good happens 99 percent of the time (he has the ball). In the first quarter he got off to a great start as he was aggressive."

Jokić shot well from the field and got to the free throw line (8-8 from the charity stripe) as he did whatever he needed to do to will Denver to victory in the final game of the road trip.

The second unit stepped up once again

As a result of the injuries that the Nuggets have had to deal with in recent weeks, the team’s second unit has been relied on more to pick up more minutes and make timely contributions.

After Porter Jr. missed Denver’s loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, he was back to lead the way off the bench for the Nuggets. The 21-year-old forward finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds in his 24 minutes of action.

Meanwhile both Monte Morris and Malik Beasley continued to step up, as the two combined for 20 points, seven assists and three 3-pointers.

"We have such a deep and talented roster. A lot of guys stepped up and made big plays tonight," Malone said. "It was a tremendous win for us, but we have more work to do."

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