Denver Nuggets 124, Indiana Pacers 116: Three takeaways
The Nuggets got the new decade started on the right note after a breakout performance from Michael Porter Jr. led them past the Pacers in a 124-116 win.
Porter Jr. poured in a career-high 25 points on a stunning 91.7 percent shooting and added five rebounds to pace Denver. Jeremy Lamb was the top scorer for Indiana with 30 points and six rebounds.
"I felt really comfortable out there," Porter Jr. told Altitude's Katy Winge after the game. "It's amazing to start the year like this. It's an amazing feeling and I have my teammates and coaches to thank."
The Nuggets got off to a slow start as their recent struggles on defensive appeared to carry over into the opening 12 minutes of the game. Denver would allow Indiana to go on an 18-4 run with the home team converting on nine of its opening 10 field goals, including 4 of 4 from downtown. Trailing 37-27 in the second quarter, the Nuggets started to claw their way back into the game thanks to a strong stretch by Jamal Murray. The 22-year-old would score 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Denver outscored the home team by eight points in the second quarter and cut the deficit to just two points.
Nikola Jokić and Michael Porter Jr. would help the Nuggets steal the game in the second half. The Nuggets would take their first lead of the game thanks to a three from Gary Harris at the 9:17 mark to take a 73-70 lead. Then Porter Jr. caught fire. The rookie poured in 10 points in the third quarter on 4-of-4 shooting. Jokić would add eight points in the quarter and the Nuggets took a 92-88 lead into the final 12 minutes of the game. The pair would continue to shine in the fourth quarter and help the Nuggets secure an eight-point win.
"This team [the Pacers] were 15-3 [at home] going into tonight. This was a really good win for us and I like how we responded after that tough loss in Houston," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters after the game.
The Nuggets now travel to the nation's capital to face the Wizards on Saturday.
Here are the takeaways:
MPJ to the rescue
Porter Jr. has flashed his potential throughout the season, but this was the game the Nuggets and their fans were waiting for since he was drafted No. 14 overall by the team in 2018.
While it is improbable Porter Jr. shoots 11 of 12 every night, the level of skill he displayed against the Pacers was mouth-watering. Indiana is one of the top defensive teams in the NBA, entering Thursday’s contest with the No. 6 defensive rating in the league, but it had no answers for the No. 14 overall pick in the 2018 draft. When the Pacers tried swarming Porter Jr., he would respond by using his impressive size and speed to get to the rim. The Pacers then tried to force the 21-year-old to shoot from outside and he punished them from downtown, converting 2 of 3 from deep.
"It's another glimpse into a very bright future," Malone said.
It is telling Malone decided to keep Porter Jr. involved throughout the fourth quarter, signifying just how dominant he was offensively. In the second half, Porter Jr. was 8-of-8 from the field. Malone has gradually brought Porter Jr. along through the early part of the season. Porter Jr. might have cemented an established role in the rotation after Thursday night.
"I think everyone is getting more and more excited about what Michael is going to bring, not just in the future, but right now," Malone said.
Jamal back on track
Murray struggled throughout December, but the 22-year-old erupted with a big showing in the first half against the Pacers. With Jokić dealing with foul trouble throughout the first half and limited to two points, Murray would score 17 of his 22 points on the night in the opening two quarters.
"Jamal got off to a great start, it was great to see him make shots," Malone said.
More importantly, Murray impacted the game in other areas aside from scoring. He was an effective facilitator throughout the contest, finishing with seven assists and he fought hard on the glass, adding five boards.
Joker in the clutch
The Pacers attacked Jokić early on, forcing him into three fouls in just eight minutes in the first half. He would assert himself in the final 24 minutes of action.
The 24-year-old scored 20 points in just 16 minutes in the second half, going 6 of 14 from the floor and converting 8 of 8 from the line. It was the latter stat that might have been most impressive for the Serbian. With Jokić struggling to hit from downtown, going 0 of 3, he mixed it up inside and drew contact for easy scoring opportunities. Jokić typically shoots 3.1 free throws a game, but against a stacked Pacers’ frontline, he was fearless.