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Denver Nuggets 124, Houston Rockets 111: Three Takeaways

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It took longer than expected for them to get going, but once the Denver Nuggets did Saturday night against the Houston Rockets, they didn’t look back. A 47-point second quarter was what the Mile High squad needed to fuel a 124-111 victory in the first game of 2022.

Houston quickly jumped out to an 13-4 lead on the back of hot 3-point shooting (the Rockets knocked down their first three attempts from deep). Meanwhile, Denver missed seven of its first eight attempts from the field. Slowly but surely, the Nuggets chipped away at the deficit as Houston began to cough the ball up and miss some shots. At the end of one, Houston led 31-30. Nikola Jokić led the way for Denver with 10 points.

Denver’s second unit helped gain the lead to begin the second quarter. The Nuggets got 24 points off the bench in the first half, led by JaMychal Green (nine) and Vlatko Čančar (nine). Bol Bol also chipped in with six points in the half. As the starters checked back in for the Nuggets, the lead grew to 15 at 55-40 midway through the second frame. The Mile High squad continued to pull away down the stretch of the first half and ultimately took a 77-55 advantage into the break. Denver outscored Houston 47-24 in the second quarter, which was fueled by an extended 30-9 run.

The third quarter was more of the same as Denver maintained a 20+ point lead throughout the quarter. Facundo Campazzo picked up where he left off in the first half and Denver’s defense continued to tighten up as the game continued. In fact, the Nuggets extended their lead to 28 late in the quarter as effective ball movement continued to pick apart Houston’s defense. Houston went on a 9-0 run down the stretch of the frame, but Denver still took a 99-74 advantage into the final quarter.

The Nuggets were on cruise control in the final quarter as Bol got some run with the starters, which resulted in several highlights. At the midway point in the frame, Denver led 111-87. Denver’s starters got some extended run to open the quarter, but both teams went to their deeper reserves to close out Saturday’s contest.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s win.

Campazzo thrived again

The Argentinian Magician set the tone early Saturday night, using his brilliant passing ability and timely shot-making to finish the first half with 13 points and eight assists. Campazzo injected some much-needed energy with some flashy assists in the second quarter, and was also active on the defensive end, chipping in with two blocks and one steal on that end of the floor in the opening two quarters.

It was a slightly quieter second half for Campazzo, but the second-year point guard finished with 22 points, 12 assists, and five steals in his 34 minutes of action. The 22 points marked a new career-high, while the assists are a new high mark for this season. With Denver shorthanded Saturday, the steady hand of Campazzo helped direct Denver’s offense, and the Argentinian was a feisty point-of-attack defender against Houston’s young guards.

Dominant second quarter was the turning point

After a sluggish start on the offensive end (Denver scored 12 points in the opening seven minutes), the Nuggets caught fire in the second frame and took advantage of Houston’s struggling defense.

Led by the second unit to begin the quarter, Denver scored 47 points in the frame, which opened up the game. The Nuggets also tightened up on the defensive end during the key quarter, as the Rockets scored 25 points in the frame.

Denver’s aggression in the paint paid off

On a night in which the Nuggets only shot 31.3 percent from beyond the arc, Denver’s attack mindset paid off in a big way Saturday. The Mile High squad dominated inside the paint, scoring 62 points compared to just 42 for Houston.

However, the constant drives to the basket also resulted in plenty of trips to the charity stripe, and the Nuggets finished the night 22-of-27 from the line. From Jokić’s post ups to Campazzo’s ability to breakdown the defense to get into the paint, the Nuggets lived around the rim Saturday night, which was a key factor in the comfortable victory.

Denver is back in action Monday night in Dallas (6:30 p.m. MT).