Good, great & awesome: Nuggets defeat Minnesota with solid second half

Feb 23, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward James Johnson (16) drives to the net against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) as guard Gary Harris (14) defends in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets lost their first game after the All-Star break to the soaring Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday evening. It was a game that the Nuggets were a bit rusty in, but there were bright spots like Nikola Jokic having his way and the Nuggets finally having their team fully healthy and ready to contribute for the first time in a long time.

On Sunday evening, the Nuggets returned to the Pepsi Center for their first home game after the break, and it was a bit bittersweet.

While the Nuggets won as heavy favorites in the game against a Minnesota team that had plenty of players on the injury report, there was a different feel.

Former players Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley returned to the Pepsi Center for the first time since being traded. They got a tribute video and loud ovation in the place that they once called home, and while their team took a loss, it was great to see them both get a chance to play.

The Nuggets pulled away late in the game to secure the 128-116 win over the Timberwolves, and with that, I give you the good, great and awesome.

Good – First quarter offense

While the defense was nowhere to be found early on — and that is an area that the Nuggets will have to clean up as they get closer to the playoffs — their offense was on full display as they had one of the highest-scoring opening quarters of the season.

Denver went into the second quarter with a 43-38 lead as they had one of their most efficient first quarter of the year.

The Nuggets went 17-20 from the field, including 3-4 from beyond the arc, and also attacked the paint repeatedly for easy baskets.

Denver finished with 22 points in the paint in the opening quarter as Minnesota elected to go with a small lineup that saw Hernangomez and James Johnson getting a couple of plays at the center position.

Because of that, Jokic and Paul Millsap feasted in the opening frame.

Jokic had his way down low as he created mismatches and backed defenders down for open looks at the rim. He had eight points and opened things up for the Nuggets, but it was Millsap that led the way.

Millsap finished with 12 points early on as he went 4-4 from the field. He knocked down both of his 3-pointers and the way that he began the game is a big reason that Denver was able to come away with a win.

Great – Paul Millsap sets the tone

The Nuggets shot a blistering hot 68.2% from the field in the opening half, and a big reason for that was because of their veteran big man who has played exceptionally well since returning from his knee injury.

Millsap has been spry as of late and has refreshed legs and with that he has been able to take advantage of what the defense is giving him.

In Sunday’s game against Minnesota, he got off to an efficient and effective start as he applied pressure both inside and out early on and kept it up for the rest of the evening.

Millsap set a new season-high of 25 points in the game and also had seven rebounds, two blocks, and a steal as well.

The 13-year veteran has been his typical self on the defensive end of the floor as he is the Nuggets defensive anchor and provides Denver with the ability to match teams’ with size and speed, but what has been a welcomed addition is Millsap’s shooting.

Millsap came into the game shooting 43.5% from beyond the arc and will see that number grow as he kept up his astronomical shooting numbers going 4-6 from the three-point line. He is finding a groove at the right time.

Awesome – Beasley and Hernangomez return

Minnesota came into the game with a full list of players on their injury report, including their franchise player Karl-Anthony Towns and also newly added D’Angelo Russell.

With having so many players out, it opened up the door for two players that the Nuggets are very familiar with to not only play a ton of minutes, but start.

In an entertaining game that ended with the Nuggets pulling away late, it was still great to see Hernangomez and Beasley get the opportunity to show what they are capable of which played its part in why both players were traded from Denver in the first place.

Beasley finished with 17 points as he hit two 3-pointers in the game, finished in the open court, and also got to the free throw line as well. He also recorded eight rebounds in the game and did everything that he could to give Minnesota a chance.

Hernangomez did not score as much and did not get into a rhythm until late in the game, but he did give productive minutes and looks genuinely happy just to be playing basketball. Hernangomez had seven points as he hit a 3-pointer, got a put-back lay-in off of a rebound, and also got to the free throw line as well.

Both players were chippy in the game as they dished out a bit of trash-talking and played with high intensity, which was expected.

After the game, Denver players showered their former teammates with smiles and hugs as the Nuggets walked away with the victory, but it was a game where both parties won.

The Nuggets got the win while Beasley and Hernangomez get to live out their dreams with a real opportunity to play.

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