The Denver Nuggets home opener was on Friday evening against a Deandre Ayton-less Phoenix Suns team. Although Phoenix did not have their man in the middle, the Suns still made things extremely difficult for the Nuggets.
Denver had a dog fight all the way until the final whistle, but due to some late-game heroics and a bit of defense, the Nuggets were able to turn it on when it mattered most. They are now off to an undefeated start on the season after two games.
With that being said, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Defense saves the day
The Nuggets have to figure out what is going on with their offense, but one thing that has been on full display in their first two games is how incredible this team can be on the defensive end of the floor.
For a team that finished seventh on offense and 10th on the defensive end of the floor last season with players such as Paul Millsap and Gary Harris stating on multiple occasions that defense is the identity that they want to have, it was good to see it translate to a win, no matter how ugly it was.
The defense was the difference-maker in the game and is the reason that the Nuggets did not fumble away an early loss to a team that they are considerably better than.
The defense turned it around in the second half as they had an impressive third quarter where they held Phoenix to only 17 points in the period.
Denver forced them the Suns to shoot 7-22 from the field in the period and rode that momentum into a closely-fought fourth quarter where Malik Beasley and Nikola Jokic came alive for a bit on the offensive end before the Nuggets again turned to the defense.
Beasley came off of the bench and finished with 17 points in the game including some late-game 3-pointers and defensive stops that helped the Nuggets keep a close lead.
Jerami Grant was also a big reason that the Nuggets won. He is a difference-maker that plays hard on both ends of the court, he makes impactful plays, and showed up every single time that Denver needed him on Friday night.
With defense and depth being the Nuggets strong suit, it is going to be difficult to beat them and was a major part of their victory on Friday evening.
Bad – Stagnant first half
The Nuggets are a team that has been pegged as a favorite to come out of the Western Conference as a contender, but with that comes expectations. Phoenix is a team in the middle of a rebuilding stage and although they have some important pieces, they are not a team that should be sticking around with the Nuggets; especially without their most important piece.
Early on, Phoenix gave the Nuggets all that they could handle as they locked in on the defensive end, forced some errant turnovers, and made things extremely difficult for Denver offensively.
After the first quarter, Denver trailed 21-15 to Phoenix behind some very sloppy play. Denver shot 6-22 from the field and that carried on to the second quarter where they again could not get themselves going.
Denver went into the halftime intermission down 45-39 and although Grant and Nikola Jokic were able to get themselves going offensively, there was not much more assistance for the Nuggets.
Grant had eight points in only nine minutes off of the bench and Jokic came out with a mission as he had 11 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
Denver finished the half with 10 turnovers and had four travels called as well. They shot only 34% from the field and shot a whopping 3-13 from beyond the arc. They played to the Suns game plan which forced them to dig themselves out of a hole in the second half with momentum on the Suns’ side.
Ugly – Too close for comfort
For a team that was playing without their starting center, the Suns looked like they were as good at the Nuggets and it came down to the final possession to find a winner.
There were opportunities for the Nuggets to close the door and finish the Suns off, but at the end of regulation, the game was tied at 95.
Denver looked as if they had the game won after a defensive onslaught in the third quarter, but during the final ticks in the game, Beasley fouled Ricky Rubio on the final possession and he calmly went to the line and sank all three free throws.
The overtime period was a back and forth affair that saw the Nuggets get the win behind the stellar play of Jokic who finished with his first triple-double of the season.
Jokic used his late-game heroics to again secure the victory for the Nuggets. He had 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists while being sensational in the overtime period as a playmaker.
Torrey Craig also played incredible help-side defense on the final possession as he had the game-sealing block on Devin Booker.
Denver’s offense might not have shown up until the overtime period, but the defense was enough to ensure the victory. Denver will have an opportunity to get back on track offensively on Monday when they head to Sacramento to face off against the Kings.