The Denver Nuggets came into Saturday’s battle with the Sacramento Kings on a six-game winning streak and they were looking to extend that winning streak to seven games.
Against the Kings, Denver’s defense showed up early on, but poor second-half execution helped the Kings snap the Nuggets six-game winning streak.
Denver was held to only 40 points in the second half and overtime which led to Sacramento pulling away with a 100-97 victory and with that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Scorching hot start
The Nuggets are a team that exerts so much energy on the defensive side of the ball that when their offense is also going, they are a very difficult team to beat.
In Saturday’s game, the Nuggets got off to another hot start as they used their stifling defense to jump out to an early lead.
After the first quarter, the Nuggets had a 27-17 advantage as Denver held the Kings to 6-18 shooting from the field and did not allow them to make a single 3-pointer. The second unit then came into the game and, while they did not score a ton of points, they did maintain solid defense.
Going into the halftime intermission the Nuggets built a 57-40 lead as they held the Kings to just 33% from the field and only 2-13 from beyond the arc. Denver shot lights out from beyond the arc as they hit nine 3-pointers and shot 51% from the field.
They also got a very good offensive start from Gary Harris, who had 18 points in the first quarter to lead the way. This is the type of game that Denver has been waiting to have from their starting shooting guard and his play became contagious as Denver locked up on the defensive end.
Saturday’s first half was nearly flawless on both ends of the floor. It is unfortunate that Denver went away from so many of the things that worked well to build an early lead, but it does not change the fact that Denver was great for two quarters.
Bad – A wasted game
Harris finally had himself the game that Denver has been waiting for offensively, but it also came with him disappearing on that end of the floor after a hot start.
Harris has been one of the Nuggets’ most consistent players to start the season and his defense has made things extremely difficult for opposing guards. Harris has held some of the best guards in the NBA to season-lows. “First team” has been a common phrase thrown around the Nuggets locker room the past few games, referring to Harris being deserving of first-team All-Defense honors.
Harris truly has made a case for himself as he has been the defensive anchor on the league’s best defensive unit, but in Saturday’s game Harris was able to get himself going early on the offensive end of the floor, but then the Nuggets went away from what was working.
Harris started out the game extremely aggressive as he attempted a dunk on the opening possession. While he did not make the dunk due to a foul, it set the tone for the entire game as Harris finished with 18 of his 25 points in the first quarter alone.
He stepped away from his constant floaters that he has been shooting and went into full attack mode. He got to the rim and finished, found a shooting stroke as he knocked down four 3-pointers in the game, and also filled the lane for easy baskets after steals.
While he disappeared offensively in the third and fourth quarter, Harris has been needing this type of game offensively. He has been using so much energy to lock down the opposing team’s best guard night in and night out that his offense has been sacrificed as a result.
Harris still was his usual self on the defensive end as he gave Buddy Hield all that he could handle on the night as the primary defender. Hield busted out late as he scored 21 points on the night, but he also needed 20 shot attempts to get his points as well.
The Nuggets needed Harris to remain aggressive in the game as the other starters could not get much going offensively against Sacramento and he started to play a bit timid.
Denver’s second-half effort led to the loss, but on a night that Harris looked as if he had everything going early on, it is difficult to not think of what could have been if he had remained in attack mode.
Ugly – Second half collapse
This was an embarrassing loss for the Nuggets and they had one of their worst halves of basketball of the entire season.
Denver went into the halftime intermission with a 17-point lead and looked as if they were going to cruise to their seventh-straight victory and then Sacramento turned it on.
The Kings locked in on the defensive end, forced turnovers, and chipped away at the Nuggets big lead to secure their biggest comeback victory of the season.
Denver limited Sacramento to just 33% from the field at the half, but Kings head coach Luke Walton made some halftime adjustments that helped his team get back in the game. From there, Denver imploded.
The Kings outplayed the Nuggets starters in the third quarter and won the frame 27-18 to cut into the lead and get within striking distance.
In the fourth quarter, the Kings defense again stole the show as the Nuggets were only able to muster 15 points as Sacramento used a 17-3 run to close out the game and force overtime.
The Nuggets’ decision to go through Jamal Murray, and not Nikola Jokic with him having another somber game at both the end of regulation as well as in overtime, was interesting.
Denver had a chance to win it at the end of regulation on a shot that got blocked as Murray dribbled into a double-team. Then, with just under 10 seconds left in overtime with the Nuggets down by three points, Murray decided to run full-court, into the paint, and he ended up on the baseline with no time to get a shot off.
The Nuggets will look back at this game with plenty of questions on what went wrong. The Nuggets started to turn the ball over and the offense hit a wall, but after such a stellar start it came down to the Nuggets late-game execution just not being good enough and ultimately losing them the game.