Talk about an epic win…

The Denver Nuggets battled for 48 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks and were clearly gassed at the end. Denver needed a big time play or two down the stretch to seal the deal, and they got exactly that. Michael Porter Jr. hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 55 seconds left, and the Nuggets forced a couple of misses from Dorian Finney-Smith and Luka Dončić to win a 98-97 thriller.


Without Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, or Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets were already entering Sunday’s game shorthanded. Jeff Green also went down five minutes into the game after aggravating his knee on a dunk in transition. So, that’s three starters and a key rotation player. Denver somehow got the win anyway, making this perhaps the best win of the season to date.

The Nuggets were dragging for a while during crunch time, perhaps due to the high level of physicality. The referees mostly let both teams play (much to the chagrin of Luka) and there were many moments where each team was allowed to battle it out. The three-point shooting dried up for both sides at the end, except for the one that counted.

Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, and Zeke Nnaji deserve a lot of credit for holding the Mavericks offense at bay. Luka didn’t have a lot of opportunities throughout the game, and when he was isolated in 1-on-1 situations, the above players mostly held their own. Luka wasn’t happy with the officiating, but the Nuggets were playing great defense, showing a level of perimeter containment they don’t usually get to often.

Here are my four primary takeaways from Denver’s loss in Dallas:

Michael Porter Jr. hits the big shot

It’s no secret that Porter had been struggling in the games Jokić hasn’t played (like a wide receiver without his star quarterback). With no Jokić to set the table in the read-and-react flow the Nuggets have grown so accustomed to, the offense was a bit stuck in the mud once again, leading to fewer opportunities for MPJ throughout.

Porter didn’t take too many shots, but the ones he attempted were the shots the Nuggets need him to take within the flow of the offense. Spot up jumpers when open, attacking space where it exists, and pull-up shots when there’s room to rise and fire comfortably. Porter made that happen, scoring 14 points on 6-of-11 from the field. He also had two steals and a block, finding ways to make an impact on the defensive end even if some of the possessions weren’t great.

The real key was his final jumper though. Bones Hyland was operating on the left wing and sees Luka sagging off of Porter. Porter caught the ball, stared down Luka, and rises over him for what amounted to an uncontested three. Porter buried it in the same spot he attempted a similar shot over Lou Williams in the bubble playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers.

It wasn’t a perfect night for Porter, but there were tangible steps in the right direction. He knows what’s expected of him and is trying to deliver. Tonight, he hit the biggest shot when it mattered the most.

Bones sets new career high with 29 points

With the Nuggets in dire need of a player to soak up some shot attempts left on the table by absences from top starters, they turned to Bones. The second-year guard was more than happy to oblige, scoring 29 points on 10-of-21 from the field and 3-of-8 from three-point range. He also added six assists compared to just one turnover, creating a high number of shots for himself and others while on the floor.

The Mavericks sent relatively consistent double teams at Bones throughout the evening, choosing to try and get the ball out of his hands even late into the fourth quarter. Bones still found avenues to exploit his quickness and handle, getting into the paint and creating all sorts of havoc for Dallas’ defense.

It’s just his second season, but Bones is taking on a lot of new responsibility right now. Even when the starters are all healthy, Bones is doing a ton for the second unit. He runs the show in much the same way a star point guard runs a starting unit. This is just another step along Bones’ developmental path, but he’s showing the capacity to handle a heavy burden at a young age. That bodes well for his future.

DeAndre Jordan deserves some credit

Jordan isn’t usually the target of much praise, but he deserves credit for his rebounding tonight. Jordan grabbed 17 rebounds in his 34 minutes, holding down the fort reasonably well. It’s an impossible job to replace Nikola Jokić, but Jordan did what he could, setting screens to free up guards, walling off the rim, and grabbing defensive rebounds. The Mavericks had just 34 points in the paint, much of that credited to Jordan.

Key contributions off the bench

Bones will and should get the bulk of the credit for Denver’s strong bench performance, but Vlatko Čančar, Zeke Nnaji, Christian Braun, and Davon Reed all had pretty good games themselves. Čančar hit a key buzzer beater at the end of the first half (start of the third quarter?) to shift the momentum following a strong Mavericks run. He also played solid defense against Christian Wood, set solid screens, and helped the offense flow with high IQ passing.

Zeke Nnaji got two key stops on Dončić in isolation and hit an important three-pointer in an important stretch. He also switched well defensively and provided some good things at both power forward and center.

Christian Braun made some plays both on and off-ball defensively, showing some high level understanding of what the Mavericks were trying to do on that end. He also got some rebounds.

Davon Reed hit an important three, got a steal and a block, and racked up three assists in 18 minutes of action.

Everyone got in on the fun tonight, and that helped the Nuggets achieve an unexpected W.

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