Good, great & awesome: Nuggets put on a defensive clinic in win over Portland

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reaches in on Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) as forward Torrey Craig (3) chases from behind in the second half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reaches in on Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) as forward Torrey Craig (3) chases from behind in the second half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are on of one of their most brutal stretches of the entire season.

First, the undermanned Denver unit won a back-to-back on Thursday and Friday against the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks. They followed up those wins with an overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons in a game that the Nuggets led by as many as 21 points in.

Denver used Tuesday’s game against the Trail Blazers as a get-right game as Jamal Murray returned from an ankle injury absence and the Nuggets also placed Gary Harris back into the starting lineup as he had an incredible day defensively.

Harris played well defensively against one of the hottest players in the league right now as he made things extremely difficult for Damian Lillard all night.

The Nuggets as a whole had one of their best defensive games of the entire season as they handed the Trail Blazers their biggest loss of the season coming away with the 127-99 victory. With that, I give you the good, great and awesome.

Good – Nikola Jokic’s hot start

It was known from the opening frame that this would be a game that the Nuggets would play well in as their franchise player came out of the gates extremely hot.

Jokic has been on a tear in the last seven games as came into the game putting up 25.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, and nine assists per contest during that stretch.

He has attacked mismatches, got his teammates involved, has been the player that the Nuggets have gone to down the stretch, and he has delivered.

In Tuesday’s game, he had such a great start of the game that he helped the Nuggets build a big lead which led to him getting some extra minutes to rest in the fourth quarter.

Jokic set the tone in the first quarter as he finished with 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists. He was assertive and made it a point to go at Hassan Whiteside on each possession, but he was also very involved on the defensive end of the floor as well.

Jokic was great in help-side defense as he made a concerted effort defensively to slow down a player like Lillard. He helped give him different looks early on, he patrolled the paint — even coming up with a block — and he also stepped out on switches and held his own.

When Jokic gets into a rhythm, like he is in right now, it opens everything else up for the Nuggets. Denver was able to get their offense flowing early as they fed their All-Star big man as he created scoring opportunities for himself and teammates.

He also altered the game on the defensive end early on and kept it going throughout the night. When he has it going on both ends of the floor, the Nuggets are a tough team to beat.

Great – Second quarter takeover

The Nuggets got out to a great start. Jokic got himself going early. The Nuggets started to come up with stops and get some momentum on the defensive end of the floor. Oh, and the Nuggets also got some solid play from their bench.

Denver led 37-28 after the first quarter, but they knew that if they wanted to win this game, they would have to come up with some stops.

Denver then put together one of the best quarters of the entire season, especially on the defensive end of the court, as the Nuggets held the Trail Blazers to their lowest scoring quarter of the entire season. By the time the second frame ended, Denver had limited Portland to only 10 points.

Torrey Craig had a great second quarter as he showcased exactly how to defend C.J. McCollum. He altered a couple of his shots, got a block and also got into his head which made McCollum react and pick up a flagrant foul.

Denver’s bench was not able to score much in the second frame, but they did come up with stops to keep the momentum that the Nuggets built in the first quarter. From there, the reserves continued built on their big lead before the starters returned.

The Nuggets went on an extended 34-13 run from the end of the first quarter to go into halftime with a 64-38 lead.

Denver’s offense got going early on, they got great minutes from their bench and they saw their lead build. Then their defense had one of their best performances of the season which led to the Nuggets big win over Portland.

Awesome – Epic effort from Denver

Depth has been the difference with this Nuggets team and it has shown as of late. Last week against the Bucks, the Nuggets got double-digit scoring games from every single player that entered the contest.

While they did not get double figures, every single member of the Nuggets roster that played against Portland did score and head coach Michael Malone went deep into his bench.

Jokic led all scorers in the game as he had 29 points in only three quarters, but the Nuggets got an epic level of effort from all of their players.

Murray missed the last 10 games, but returned from his ankle injury. He only played 19 minutes on the night, but finished with 20 points and also dished out six assists. Harris did not have a great game offensively, but helped limit Lillard — who has been averaging close to 50 points a game over the last six games — to only 21 points on the night. Jerami Grant finished with 17 points and Will Barton III added 16 points, but the second unit was a big reason that the Nuggets were able to sustain their big lead. Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez combined for 21 points and 15 rebounds. They came in off of the bench and gave good minutes on both ends of the floor and helped in the Nuggets win.

With the win, the Nuggets remained undefeated in their division and also moved to 3-0 in their head-to-head with Portland.

The game against Portland was on the front end of a back-to-back set and the Nuggets are up against another division foe Utah Jazz on Wednesday evening. The Nuggets just beat the Jazz last week and will look to have the same results.

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