The Denver Nuggets were riding high and streaking going into a big Christmas game, but the New Orleans Pelicans ended Denver’s seven-game winning streak with much blame going to the letdown of the defense.
The Nuggets then welcomed in the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday with a bad taste in their mouth and wanted to get back on the right track. Denver might not have performed as expected on Christmas, but there was no way that they were going to bring in the New Year on a losing streak.
The Nuggets got back on the right track in a game that they led in from start to finish as they beat Memphis 119-109 and with that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Stellar defense early on
With defense being the main issue in the Nuggets’ Christmas loss to New Orleans, the defense against Memphis early on was much better and also the biggest difference in the game.
The Nuggets put on a defensive clinic in the opening half which led to them getting out to a lead, sustaining it, and it started from the opening tip.
The Nuggets forced seven turnovers in the opening quarter as they held the Grizzlies to only 11 points. Memphis only shot 20% in that frame alone and the Nuggets carried that mentality into the second quarter as well.
The bench unit was able to get going defensively in the second quarter with Michael Porter Jr. putting together some of his best minutes while in a Nuggets uniform. He finished with eight points in the half and provided the second unit with a spark.
Denver kept that defensive mindset into the second frame as they had one of their best defensive halves of the season. The Nuggets limited Memphis to only 39 points on 33% shooting from the field.
When the Nuggets are able to ride their big man — Jokic put together arguably his best game of the year with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists — and the defense also performs well, the Nuggets are a tough team to beat.
Bad – Rough patch in the third quarter
For as good as an opening half as it was for the Nuggets, the start to the second half was the part of the game that the Nuggets would like to get back.
Memphis made a big push to begin the third quarter and what was once a 23-point lead dwindled all the way down to three points and forced the Nuggets to have to put together another big run secure the win.
The same movement and unselfishness that the Nuggets played with early on was not present to begin the third quarter and the frustration was shown on multiple player’s faces as Memphis went on their run.
The Nuggets have been a team that has allowed teams all season long to hang around in games that it appears that Denver is going to win in blow-out fashion in and is an area that the Nuggets have to tighten up in.
Denver did however turn things around and get back to playing their brand of basketball with the ball finally rotating on offense, the Nuggets getting out on the break and hitting the open man and also getting the shots that they wanted but when given the opportunity to build these big leads the Nuggets have to find a way of opening things up and shutting the door on teams.
Ugly – Paul Millsap battered up
Paul Millsap has been a bit banged up which resulted in him only playing 16 minutes for Denver on Christmas day.
Head coach Michael Malone said that the injuries do not appear to be serious, but Millsap still did not play on Saturday which was a bit interesting as there were conflicting reports with the injury report saying that he would miss the game due to a knee contusion and the Nuggets coming out with their injury update prior to the game stating that Millsap missed the game due to left quadriceps contusion.
There is a possibility that it could be both and with Denver being on the front end of a back-to-back set, resting the veteran big man could be precautionary.
Additionally, it was a bit shocking that Malone went with Mason Plumlee, and not Jerami Grant, to start at power forward.
A big reason for that had to do with Malone’s frustrations with the Nuggets rebounding recently as well as the fact that the Grizzlies have a large frontcourt that could have given the Nuggets issues.
Plumee was productive in his start. He finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and provided the team with immense energy.
While the Nuggets missed their veteran big, it has to be great to know that they have depth and other players to step up while he attempts to get back healthy.