Denver Nuggets 95, Houston Rockets 94: Three Takeaways

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It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. The Denver Nuggets escaped with a 95-94 victory over the Houston Rockets Saturday, with Nikola Jokić making the game-saving block at the buzzer.

Houston struggled offensively out of the gates, which allowed Denver to build an early 16-8 lead, with Will Barton dropping seven points in the first seven minutes of the game. However, the Nuggets went cold throughout the remainder of the quarter, which allowed Houston to take a 27-26 lead heading into the second frame.

Houston extended the lead to six early in the second quarter as the Nuggets’ second unit couldn’t find a rhythm early. After Denver briefly reduced the lead to one point, Houston used a 7-0 run to build the lead up to 41-33 with five minutes remaining in the half. Nikola Jokić scored seven points over a two-minute span to help the Nuggets get closer, with the Rockets holding on to a 47-46 lead at the break. Jokić dropped 11 points in the second quarter alone.

The Nuggets used a 12-5 run to regain the lead early in the third quarter as Jokić continued to effectively score inside the paint. Jokić had 12 points and seven quarters in the third frame, but Denver couldn’t build on the lead and entered the fourth quarter with a narrow 72-71 advantage.

Denver’s second unit helped extend the lead to begin the final quarter, with JaMychal Green getting two buckets around the rim during the mini run. However, Houston responded with a 7-0 run to tie the game up at 83 with seven minutes remaining. Both teams traded shots down the stretch, with Aaron Gordon hitting two clutch 3-pointers in the final minutes, with the latter giving Denver the 95-94 advantage.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s win.

Struggles from deep continue

The same story played out for the Nuggets Saturday afternoon when it came to the 3-point line. Following two games of cold shooting against the Memphis Grizzlies earlier in the week, the familiar sights of Ball Arena didn’t help Denver catch fire from deep.

The Nuggets finished 9-of-40 from beyond the arc against Houston, which continued the concerning trend of struggles from beyond the arc to begin the season. Luckily for Denver, Houston wasn’t hitting from deep Saturday, finishing 8-of-28 from downtown.

MVP dominant once again

As has been the case throughout the season, Jokić scored with ease against Houston and made his presence felt on the glass. After a slow start in the first quarter, the Serbian dropped 23 points across the second and third quarters combined.

Jokić finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting from the field. Although the assist numbers were low, Denver couldn’t have asked for much more from their reigning MVP against Houston.

Houston scores big in the paint

With both teams struggling from 3-point territory, the Rockets were more successful getting to the paint and finishing, which resulted in a 54-38 scoring advantage in the paint.

Denver finished with more offensive rebounds (10-7) and second chance points (10-8), but Houston’s guards were able to get downhill effectively and open up scoring opportunities for their big men. Heading into Saturday’s contest, the Rockets ranked first in the league in the frequency of shot attempts coming within four feet of the rim, which was on display at Ball Arena Saturday.

Denver is back in action Monday night against the Miami Heat (7 p.m. MT).