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Nuggets Tighten Up The Defense, Rally Past Memphis 87-78
Busting out of an energy slump is a task made doubly difficult when the opponent sucks possessions and pace out of a game like a vampire. But that was the Nuggets’ task on Friday night at the Pepsi Center. Work their way back into a good space by fighting through the mud and muck the Memphis Grizzlies can turn a game into.
And the Nuggets did.
These games are almost never pretty. Defensive possessions are long, drawn-out affairs while the Grizzlies bleed the shot clock dry. Offensively, there is still physical fight in Memphis, so those possessions are bump and grind and that’s what the Nuggets worked through in an 87-78 win.
“This was a game that we had to have and I’m proud of our guys for going out there and getting it done,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I thought our energy, our urgency, and our effort was much greater than it was the other night. And I thought our defense, we kind of just got back to defending how we were defending before this 2-4 slide that we were on.”
It snapped a three-game losing streak and improved the Nuggets record at the Pepsi Center to 15-5. And the Nuggets got back to playing stifling defense to get it done.
More than a third of Memphis’ points were scored in the first quarter. The Grizzlies came out swinging and hit the Nuggets with a 20-8 start, which became a 26-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.
And that was that.
The Nuggets shut the Grizzlies down in every quarter after that. Memphis scored 52 points the remainder of the game on 21-of-59 shooting. The Nuggets buckled down Marc Gasol, holding him to 12 points in the final three quarters after he had 10 in the first. They also did a good job defending high-scoring guard Tyreke Evans, who scored just 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting the entire game.
“That was really great,” center Nikola Jokic said. “If we play like this we’re going to win a lot of games.”
And the Nuggets did all of that playing without arguably their best defender, shooting guard Gary Harris, who missed the game due to personal reasons.
Will Barton started in place of Harris, and he began working his way out of some recent shooting struggles. Barton led the team with 17 points, making three 3-pointers in the process, and added five rebounds and three assists.
Barton was one of four Nuggets in double figures. Trey Lyles had 16 points, Nikola Jokic finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Jamal Murray added 11 points. After making just 5-of-21 shots in the first quarter (23.8 percent), the Nuggets knocked in 22-of-49 shots (44.8 percent) in the final three to grind out the win.
The game was the first of a back-to-back for the Nuggets, who finish the duo of games at San Antonio on Saturday night.
“For us, after that (Atlanta) game, forget anything else, we’re going to take it one game at a time, our whole focus is on beating Memphis tonight,” Malone said. “Now it turns to San Antonio.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter