In a matchup between two top of the NBA’s top 10 offenses, it was defense that would help the Nuggets prevail over the Trail Blazers in a 111-106 victory.
Denver and Portland entered the game as the No. 5 and No. 6-ranked offenses, but both teams came with strong defensive plans and honed in on guarding the perimeter. The Nuggets were able to edge their way through in the fourth quarter, thanks to an impressive run by Jamal Murray. The Nuggets' lead guard had 19 of his 24 points in the final 12 minutes to seal a win at Ball Arena.
Nikola Jokić led all scorers with an impressive 41 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Michael Porter Jr. added a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers with 25 points and 13 assists while former Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony added another 24 points.
"I just think our guys understood, for us to get this win, we were going to have to do it with our defense. Our third quarter was phenomenal and I'm not sure what the numbers were with the fourth quarter, but not bad as well," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "That's the key, we talked about it pregame, when we defend, we're a good team."
The Nuggets will look to build on this performance when they host the Wizards Thursday (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Here are the takeaways:
Just over 48 hours removed from having a performance below his typical standard, Jokić returned to his best in commanding fashion. It was an outing Denver desperately needed.
With several Nuggets’ players struggling offensively, Denver’s All-Star center dominated each and every quarter putting up 12, 11, 12, and six respectively. Although Jokić is a gifted scorer, he is known for being unselfish. He takes over games offensively when it's necessary and Tuesday night was another example of it. Once Murray got going in the final quarter, Jokić went back to facilitating and added three dimes in the quarter.
Jokic shot 32 field goal attempts on the night, just one shy from his career-high set in Sacramento on his 50-point outing on Feb 6.
Significant leap forward on defense and turnovers
Denver struggled to defend and was careless with the ball during its trip east. As a result, the group returned to the Mile High City taking just one win in that four-game stretch. Malone’s team made amends in a big way Tuesday.
The Nuggets had just one turnover to 25 assists. That stat is truly incredible and historic. Denver eclipsed its previous record for the lowest turnovers (three) in a game set in 2019 in a loss to the Hawks. It also set an NBA record for the fewest turnovers in a game. That is a dramatic improvement from last week, where the team was averaging 15 turnovers a game (22nd in the NBA).
"We all know that turnovers have been an issue as of late, that was an amazing stat for us to get this win as well,” Malone said.
Malone will also be encouraged with how his group slowed down MVP candidate Damian Lillard. The Blazers guard can seemingly shoot from anywhere, but he couldn’t find any room to operate Tuesday. Despite the absences of two key perimeter defenders in Gary Harris and P.J. Dozier, the Nuggets were able to hold Portland’s star to just 9 of 21 shooting on the night. Before the fourth quarter, where Lillard had 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting, he opened the game having missed 10 of his first 15 field goal attempts.
Murray shot 1 of 8 through the opening 36 minutes. Thankfully for Murray and the Nuggets, he doesn’t let a cold quarter or three affect him.
Murray threw himself a grand birthday celebration in the fourth quarter, dropping 15 points to help the Nuggets ice the win over their division rivals. Three-pointers were the difference for the newly-turned 24-year-old, who converted 3 of 4 in the final 12 minutes of the contest.
"There was a time and a place and I just have to pick my spots, Murray said of his fourth-quarter heroics. "Whether or not it was dropping in in the first half or not, I just got to keep shooting."
“I was kind of feeling like, just get him the ball and I tried my best," Jokić said. "I think we did a really good job as a team trying to get him the ball and finding him in open space."
With the Nuggets searching for offensive help throughout the contest, Murray’s assassin-like fourth quarter was the difference-maker for the home team. Another player who deserves a ton of credit is Zeke Nnaji.
The rookie came created some much-needed floor spacing for Denver throughout the game, hitting two threes en route to a 10-point outing.