DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 12: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball against the Detroit Pistons on December 12, 2017 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense Carries Nuggets to Rout of Pistons

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

DETROIT – For the Nuggets to be certain of a second road victory on this six-game trip, they knew their defense had to travel. It did, and then some on Tuesday night in Detroit.

The Nuggets turned in one of their best defensive performances of the season in completely shutting down what can be a potent Pistons offense in a 103-84 victory at Little Caesers Arena.

“I thought it was outstanding,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I talked to our guys after the game; when we defend like that we’re a good team. We saw that defense in Orlando, and we saw it again tonight.”

Detroit’s 84 points was the second-lowest point total allowed by the Nuggets this season, and the defensive lockdown started right at the top.

Tobias Harris, the Pistons leading scorer, entered the game averaging 18.8 points per game, and shooting 47 percent from the field and 45 percent from the 3-point line. The Nuggets held him to his worst game of the season and Harris finished with two points and did not make a shot (0-of-7) from the field. Until Tuesday, he’d never even had a game in single-digit scoring this season, much less that few points.

“We were doing some switching,” Malone said. “And we talked about the other day if Wilson (Chandler) is not making shots, what else can he do? Well, you know what? He can guard. I think he’s done a really good job guarding guys like (Indiana’s) Thaddeus Young, guarding guys like Tobias Harris. But it was group effort. When you have that kind of defense for 48 minutes, it’s not just one guy.”

The Nuggets stuck close to Harris throughout, crowding his space so that he was never comfortable and couldn’t get clean looks. And just as importantly, they were good at the point of attack, expertly defending the pick-and-roll and dribble hand-off actions that have gotten the Pistons so many open shots this season.

With Detroit’s drive-and-kick game stalled, and Harris not providing his usual production, they were held to 35.4 percent shooting as a team. Avery Bradley and Andre Drummond were also both held well under their scoring averages. Only one of Detroit’s starters scored in double figures.

Asked if he thought it was the Nuggets best defensive performance of the season, center Mason Plumlee said, “I don’t know all of the games in my head, but I thought start-to-finish we were solid. …I would say it’s our best job staying in coverage and doing what we said we were going to do in the gameplan.”

Meanwhile, the Nuggets offense hummed.

Jamal Murray heated up in the third quarter and had one of his best shooting games of the season. His 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the third helped the Nuggets take a nine-point halftime lead and push it all the way to 22. Murray scored 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-8 shooting from the 3-point line.

He was one of four Nuggets in double-figure scoring. Trey Lyles put as second straight high-scoring game in the books with 20 points on 7-of-7 shooting overall, including 3-of-3 from the 3-point line. Mason Plumlee added 10 points and 13 rebounds. The Nuggets shot 50 percent from the field.

The Nuggets are 8-1 this season when allowing 100 or fewer points.

The win ensures they will get back to Denver with a winning record from this road trip. They can end the trip with a 3-3 record with a win over the Celtics on Wednesday night.

“It was a team effort, a game that we needed,” Malone said. “And, obviously, one more game on this road trip.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter