Denver Nuggets 117, Detroit Pistons 111: Three takeaways

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It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win and that’s all that matters sometimes. A 117-111 victory for the Denver Nuggets Sunday night over the Detroit Pistons was full of turnovers, fouls, and inconsistent execution. Led by a 34-point performance from Nikola Jokić, Denver ended its season-long homestand with a win.

It was a battle between the big men to open Sunday’s contest, with Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart scoring 10 of the first 14 points for the Pistons while Nikola Jokić scored nine of Denver’s first 15 points. Both teams focused on attacking the paint in the opening frame, with the Nuggets securing a 22-16 advantage in points in the paint after the first 12 minutes as the two teams combined for just three made 3-pointers. Detroit took a 30-29 lead into the second quarter.

The two teams continued to battle back-and-forth as each coach went to bench lineups. However, once both teams brought their starters back in during the middle portion of the second quarter, Denver built a 45-38 lead. Turnovers continued to hurt the Pistons, who committed nine in the first half alone. Although the Nuggets’ lead grew to 10 at one point late in the quarter, Detroit closed the half on an 18-8 run to reduce the lead to tie the game at 60.

The Nuggets slowly extended their lead up to six points after the first few minutes of the second half as neither team could gain a rhythm. Jokić continued to get to his spots and put points on the board, but Denver’s supporting cast wasn’t as active, which allowed Detroit to stay in the game.  After the Pistons got within six, the Nuggets closed on a 17-3 run to secure a 92-76 advantage heading into the final frame.

Once again, Detroit had an answer for Denver’s run, and the Pistons found themselves down only four points with seven minutes remaining. A key 3-pointer from Austin Rivers extended Denver’s lead to 103-96 with five minutes remaining as the Nuggets worked to hold on for the win. The teams traded 3-pointers down the stretch, with the teams tied at 109 with 1:45 remaining. Two late trips to the free-throw line for Jokić gave the Nuggets a 115-111 advantage with 18 seconds remaining, which was enough to hold on for the victory.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s win.

Jokić dominated inside

The reigning MVP wasted no time in Sunday’s contest, as he scored nine of the first 15 points for the Nuggets, which resulted in an 18-point first half (to go along with five assists and five rebounds). Excluding his three 3-point attempts, Jokić shot 7-of-9 from the field in his 18 first-half minutes, highlighting his effectiveness inside the arc.

It was more of the same in the second half, albeit in a quieter fashion. In the end, Jokić finished Sunday’s win with 34 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists in 36 minutes of action, a performance he will look to repeat against Detroit on Tuesday.

Denver’s second unit bounced back

Led by Bryn Forbes and Zeke Nnaji, the Nuggets got exactly what they needed off the bench during Sunday’s contest. Denver held a 19-14 advantage in bench points in the first half, which ultimately resulted in a 41-37 difference by the final buzzer.

In his second game with the Mile High squad, Forbes finished with 12 points. Nnaji (12), Davon Reed (six), and Facundo Campazzo (nine) rounded out most of the second unit’s production in Sunday’s game.

DeMarcus Cousins also made his official Nuggets debut in Sunday’s game.

Active hands fueled Denver’s defense

It wasn’t a particularly impressive first half for the Nuggets on the defensive end of the floor, as Detroit got to the rim at will and put up 60 points in the first 24 minutes.

However, Denver locked in over the remaining 24 minutes and used active hands to force turnovers and generate easy scoring opportunities. 22 Pistons turnovers were converted into 28 points for the Nuggets, which helped overcome Detroit’s 56 percent shooting from the field and 48 points in the paint.

Look for the Nuggets to be aggressive on defense Tuesday night in Detroit in hopes of a repeat performance.

Denver is back in action Tuesday night in Detroit (5 p.m. MT).