The Denver Nuggets concluded 2019 with a 26-point loss to the Houston Rockets in which their defense did not show up and they allowed a season-high 130 points. The Nuggets rallied back in that game to get within three points in the second half, but could not overcome a late push by the Rockets.
Denver looked to bounce-back in their second of a five-game road trip against an Indiana Pacers team that has been one of the best groups at home in the entire NBA.
The Nuggets second half-push gave them a 124-116 victory over the Pacers in a game that Michael Porter Jr. finish with a career-high 25 points and with that, I give you the good, bad, and ugly.
Good – Porter Jr.’s career-best game
When the Nuggets selected Porter Jr. with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, they knew that they were getting a special player, but they were also aware that it would take some time for him to finally get going.
On Thursday evening, Porter Jr. had his first big moment.
Porter Jr. is a player that fans have been wanting head coach Michael Malone to play more as he has shown signs of promise in the small amount of minutes he has received, but in Thursday’s game — with Jokic dealing with foul issues early on — Malone had no choice but to play Porter Jr. more. That led to Porter Jr. having his best game as a professional.
Porter Jr. shot the ball well, made smart reads on the defensive end of the floor, and when Denver’s offense needed to get going, the Nuggets they made sure to find their 2018 first-round pick.
MPJ has a new career-high with 9+ minutes left in the fourth!
23 points on 10-11 shooting in just 18 minutes of action!!
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 3, 2020
Porter Jr. finished with his new career-high of 25 points on 11-12 shooting from the field and the Nuggets made sure to go through him late in the game as he continued to deliver.
His confidence has been on full display as of late and this offensive onslaught was inevitable. He has strung along four-straight games where he has scored the ball with relative ease.
The Nuggets bench unit has been off and on to begin the season and Porter Jr. is a player that has been working to win over Malone’s trust. Perhaps this is the game that kickstarts what looks to be an illustrious career.
Bad – Slow start defensively
The slow start for the Nuggets on the defensive end of the court continued as, at one point in the first quarter, they were down by 14 points.
The Nuggets attempted to get some offensive footing by pushing the pace and getting out and running, but they heavily relied on three-point shots which allowed the Pacers to get easy baskets on the opposite end of the floor.
While the Nuggets had to fight for almost every basket, the Pacers got what they wanted in the opening frame as their 37 points at the end of the first quarter was Indiana’s highest-scoring quarter of the season.
The Nuggets defense in the first quarter was nonexistent as Denver allowed the Pacers to shoot a whopping 71% from the field and 4-5 from deep.
TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb scored at will in the opening quarter. Warren finished with 10 points and Lamb added 8 with an inside-out approach which caused the Nuggets to have to adjust to slow those two players down.
Denver’s defense got going a bit in the second quarter as the Nuggets rallied and won the frame 35-27 and made it a game going into the half down by only two points.
The Nuggets point of emphasis has to be on how they start these games because allowing a team of Indiana’s caliber to shoot over 70% from the field for a quarter is a recipe of disaster; especially on the road.
Ugly – Nikola Jokic’s foul trouble
One of the very few knocks on Nikola Jokic that he has to continue to work on is his decision-making when it comes to fouls.
While there are fouls that come with having to defend some of the most talented players in the entire world, there are also times that the Nuggets big man takes fouls out of frustration.
Jokic did a bit of that early on as the Nuggets big man was only able to play eight minutes in the first half all due to foul trouble.
He picked up two quick fouls and was forced to sit as a result and then as soon as he got back in the game he stepped over to provide help-side defense on a block attempt, but fouled Lamb who converted the and-one finish which sent Denver’s big man back to the bench.
With Jokic out of the rotation, the Nuggets had to rely on Jamal Murray to hit multiple tough shots in the opening half as well as Porter Jr. to have his best game of his career to ensure the victory. While all of those factors were nice boosts, Denver needs their big man on the court and playing.
Jokic was able to put his stamp on the game in the second half as he made it a point to come into the game and play bully-ball with the smaller Pacers frontcourt. He did not finish with a single assist in the game — his first time doing so since the 2017 season — but was aggressive.
Jokic finished with 20 points in the second half alone as he went 8-8 from the free-throw line and applied pressure on Indiana’s bigs.
If he plays for the full game, there is no telling how much he could have finished with.
Denver was fortunate enough to pull away with the victory as the Nuggets received a complete team effort, but it could have come a bit easier if the Nuggets big man stayed out of foul trouble.