After a forgettable loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, the Denver Nuggets knew they had to bring better effort and focus to San Francisco against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets got both, winning 128-123 on national television and showcasing their newfound talent on the big stage. The game got uncomfortably close at the end with a Bones Hyland turnover at a bad time, but Nikola Jokić helped seal the deal with this full-court beauty.

Nikola Jokić collected his first triple-double, scoring 26 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and dishing 10 assists in 34 minutes. Michael Porter Jr. scored 17 points and canned five three-pointers. It was Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that made the biggest difference though, combining for 37 points on 24 shots and playing strong perimeter defense against the scary Warriors backcourt.

Jamal Murray sat out tonight’s game due to injury management of his left knee. The Nuggets play against on Saturday night, their home opener in front of the fans, so Murray will suit up for that one. In his place, Bruce Brown entered the starting lineup and adopted the Stephen Curry defensive assignment. Curry had 34 points, but he had to work hard for almost all of his looks. Brown (and others that switched onto Curry) locked in at key moments to force tough shots that Curry hit, but tough ones nonetheless.

Overall, it was an excellent first win of the season, setting the tone for a team with more versatility and talent on both ends this season. The Nuggets had to have a bounce back game after a poor showing Wednesday, and they got exactly what they needed.

Here are the three primary takeaways from the Nuggets victory over the Warriors:

The bench figured some things out

After what was mostly a disastrous beginning of the season for the Nuggets reserves on Wednesday, Friday night served as a reminder that there are sometimes just good and bad nights in the NBA. Four of the five bench members were the same from night to night with Bones Hyland, Davon Reed, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan. The only change was rookie Christian Braun for replacement starter Bruce Brown. One would think that going up against the Warriors might be tougher than against the Utah Jazz.

Not the case on Friday night. Bones found plenty of opportunities to score and create offense for the group. He finished with 13 points and 5 assists while hitting 4/10 from the field and 1/3 from three, but his control of the offense was much stronger on this night. Jeff Green, who struggled mightily on Wednesday, turned around on Friday and hit multiple threes and played solid defense. DeAndre Jordan also played his part with nine points on four shots around the rim to go with five rebounds in 14 minutes.

But the big story of this group may have been Christian Braun. The rookie entered the game early with Porter getting into foul trouble, and he made an immediate impact. His perimeter defense and discipline is something the Nuggets have lacked for years from their youngest players. He had three steals and several contests on the Warriors stars. He basically shut down Jordan Poole, who had just seven points in 27 minutes. A big time moment for the rookie. Welcome to the NBA.

That shooting drought was short lived

After the Nuggets shot 5-of-22 from three in their opener on Wednesday, making outside shots was always going to be an emphasis heading into tonight. More than that, finding better opportunities to take threes consistently would help open up the paint for Denver’s drives and post ups…as long as they could hit those shots.

What better way to get the outside shots going than to feed Michael Porter Jr.?

MPJ had 17 points on the night and shot 5-of-10 from three-point range. Some of the threes he was making were patently absurd. He has the capability to get his shot up over anybody, and the Nuggets needed it more than ever. Porter delivered.

As a team, the Nuggets shot 15-of-34 from three with contributions from multiple players. Porter, Brown, and Green all hit multiple threes. Caldwell-Pope and Jokić each hit a three. Bones got one to go in the first half, and that helped open up the driving lanes for him the rest of the game.

Perimeter defense was vastly improved, despite the score

Sure, the Nuggets gave up 119 points. Sure, Stephen Curry had 34 points. Sure, the Nuggets gave up 15 made threes and allowed some easy baskets under the rim. That’s what the Warriors do.

But Denver played with much better effort and discipline tonight. It’s HARD to guard the Warriors. They make you think while they’re still moving like a structureless amoeba, and staying attached can be difficult. The Nuggets did just that, allowing those 15 made threes on 44 attempts, good for 34.1% from behind the arc. The Nuggets can live with that. Caldwell-Pope and Brown were the stars there, but all three of Jokić, Gordon, and Porter had good moments too, even if they weren’t great throughout.

Braun off the bench will be a nice defensive wildcard for Malone to play. How frequently he uses that probably depends on other factors, but it’s clear that Braun will help Denver massively in their perimeter containment this year and going forward.

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