The basketball world was turned upside down on Sunday afternoon as news hit the airwaves of the passing of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and eight others.
The Nuggets showed a heartfelt tribute before the game and there also was a moment of silence, but this felt like a game that should have been canceled.
Despite that, the Nuggets pulled away in the second half as Denver’s defense turned it on in the final frame to ensure the victory.
Denver won 117-110 behind Nikola Jokic’s ninth triple-double of the season and with that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Nuggets turn it on late
Give the players credit. Finding out news of this magnitude about a player that is so universally respected right before having to play a game had to be emotionally draining, but players did their best to block out the reality of the moment.
It started out a bit slow for the Nuggets as they trailed for half of the game, but in the fourth quarter, when it mattered most, the Nuggets turned it on.
Denver gained the edge in the third quarter as they won the frame 33-30 and went into the fourth quarter with a 90-89 lead. Then they saw their lead build in the final frame.
The three-point line ended up being how Denver opened it up in the fourth quarter, but it was also their defense.
Monte Morris got Denver going as he had back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Nuggets a 100-93 lead and then Michael Porter Jr. joined in on the action with a shot from deep of his own.
Houston kept coming though as Russell Westbrook kept penetrating the Nuggets defense and getting to the rim for finishes of his own.
Westbrook finished with 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter alone, but the Nuggets responded to every big shot that Houston hit.
The Nuggets defense clamped down in the fourth as they limited Houston to just 21 points in the quarter.
Denver’s energy late on that end of the floor, along with the rebounding, ended up being the difference in the game and it was on full display in the final possession. Torrey Craig got back-to-back rebounds to keep the Rockets from getting another chance at hitting a late shot and getting closer and when Houston did get a shot Jerami Grant came out of nowhere for the game-ending block.
The Nuggets pulled it all together in the fourth quarter and their defense got them a much-needed win that possibly has playoff implications.
Bad – Slow opening quarter
It made complete sense for both teams to come out a bit slow after just hearing about a player that they idolized had suddenly passed away.
Both teams came out sluggish to begin the game before finally getting their juices flowing and finding a rhythm.
Houston hit quickly and made it difficult on the Nuggets, who have many matchup issues with the Rockets because of their ability to step out and space the floor with their three-point shooting. The Rockets let them fly early and often.
Houston got out to an early 36-27 lead on Denver after the first quarter as they held the Nuggets to only 37% shooting. Denver was also only able to go 3-9 from the three-point line as Houston closed out on shooters and pushed the Nuggets inside.
Houston won the rebounding battle early on, got out on the break and also got to the free-throw line which allowed them to gather some momentum to take an early lead.
Denver did, however, get themselves going in the second quarter as they closed the gap and got back in the game behind the play of their starters and a solid start from the bench as well.
The Nuggets have to continue to find ways to begin games with more energy and get off to better starts as they have been a team that plays well in the second half of games. Good starts and stronger finishes will have Denver putting together complete games.
Ugly – Nuggets roster mourned the loss of Kobe Bryant
The Nuggets came out and put together a solid game in which they were able to even the series with Houston at 2-2, but at the end of the day, none of that matters as the basketball community and rest of the world lost a legend.
Honestly, nothing else matters.
Players found out about the news in warmups and from that moment on, Bryant’s death is where their minds were as the news sent a ripple throughout the basketball universe.
Bryant is a player that personally impacted every single player in the game as one of the best basketball minds in the history of the sport.
After the game, multiple Nuggets players spoke out on how difficult it was to play a game with emotions running high.
“When we heard it, we did not really feel like playing basketball at the time,” Porter said when speaking to media after the game. “The whole first half I was not even thinking about basketball. It felt like my head was somewhere else.”
Other players followed in those sentiments.
“It was definitely difficult to play in this game tonight,” Monte Morris said in his postgame, on-court interview. “It was so many emotions in the locker room. It was real, real quiet. Everybody was in shock and we just know how much Kobe loved the game, how much he put into it and even if you did not know him, when the tragic news occurred it felt like you did.”
Jokic had a bit of a different experience.
While he said that it was a tragedy and was news that impacted plenty of his teammates he said that he viewed it as an opportunity to focus. “Nothing can take your mind off of what you love to do. That is Mamba Mentality.”
Kobe was a superstar and a person that had an impact beyond basketball. He thrived to be the best at every single thing that he did in a way that led to many of us following suit in our daily lives.
This generation grew up on Kobe and idolized him and may his legacy forever live on.