Good, great & awesome: Nuggets snap Houston’s eight-game winning streak

Nov 20, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig (3) passes the ball as Houston Rockets guard Ben McLemore (16) defends in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have not started out the season exactly how they have wanted, but heading into Wednesday’s game, the Nuggets were the top team in the Northwest division with a 9-3 record and have been starting to show glimpses of the Nuggets team from last season.

Denver has been tested early on with a couple of challenging games, but they have yet to play a team with the type of firepower that the Houston Rockets have.

Houston came into Wednesday’s game against the Nuggets on an eight-game winning streak on the backs of their two All-Stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden, a task far too difficult for any one or two defenders to try and manage. The Nuggets knew that it would take a concerted team effort to slow down Houston and played arguably their most complete game of the season.

The Nuggets snapped the Rockets’ eight-game winning streak with a 105-95 win and moved to 10-3 on the year.

With that, I give you the good, great and awesome.

Good – Solid first half

It is easier said than done when talking about slowing down offensive weapons like Harden and Westbrook, but the Nuggets came in with a game plan and stuck with it.

Denver defended both of those players well. They played excellent help-side defense, ran shooters off of the three-point line as well as sent additional help Harden and Westbrook’s way and that was a reason that they went into the half with a 54-51 lead.

Houston is a team that came into the game as one of the highest-scoring groups in the league, but the Nuggets limited their looks and slowed Houston down in the first half.

The Rockets were not able to get out and run like they typically do which is a testament to the way that Denver defended. Denver also forced Houston to shoot 43% from the field and 3-14 from beyond the arc.

Denver’s star player Nikola Jokic was ultra-aggressive offensively from the opening tip. He had 15 of his team-high 27 points at the halftime intermission to lead the way for Denver. The Nuggets received some much-needed assistance from the rest of the starters and their bench made a strong appearance as well.

The Nuggets started out the game strong on both ends of the court and put the Rockets in a hole that they struggled to get out of for the rest of the night. When Denver is clicking on all cylinders, there might not be a team in the league that is deep enough to beat them.

Great – Concerted effort

The Nuggets have been challenged aplenty by their head coach all year, but this was a game that the Nuggets players simply would not be denied as they made a statement against the dominant Rockets

The Nuggets controlled the game from start to finish, had one of their most complete games of the season and it was against one of the best teams in the league.

Houston came into the game on an eight-game winning streak and also was averaging 119 points a game, but Denver put an end to that streak as their defense went up a gear.

Denver only allowed Houston to score 95 points on the night and won the game in different ways.

The Nuggets finished with 60 points in the paint, pushed the pace off of turnovers as they finished with 32 points off of the Rockets 21 turnovers, and Denver also recorded 13 steals as a team.

“They understand when we defend like this we can beat anybody in the NBA,” Malone said when discussing his team’s defensive effort.

The starters played well as they all finished in double figures with Jokic leading the way with a game-high 27 points, but when the bench is clicking is when Denver is at their best.

The bench for us, they are really important,” Malone said. “We have a terrific starting group, but we feel with Monte (Morris), Juancho (Hernangomez), Torrey (Craig), Jerami (Grant) and Mason (Plumlee), the energy they give us, the spark they give us is always needed.”

Awesome – Torrey Craig steps up

Denver’s bench is starting to show signs of life as of late and it is a big reason that the Nuggets are on a three-game winning streak.

Malone has tinkered with the lineup and it has led to winning basketball.

Last game, the change that Malone made was adding Hernangomez to the rotation, a move that has seemed to have added some life to Denver’s second unit. In Wednesday’s game, Malone inserted Craig and it paid off again.

“Torrey was great,” said Malone when speaking on the big game from his backup small forward. “I knew going into this game that this was a tailor-made Torrey (Craig) type of a game with a Harden and a Westbrook.”

Craig was the unsung hero of the game and his defense and energy set the tone for the Nuggets.

Last season Westbrook struggled mightily against Craig as he shot only 19% from the field when defended by the Nuggets wing. Craig rolled that defensive mentality into Wednesday’s game as he had his best game of the season.

Craig finished with eight points, two steals and three blocks while also playing stellar defense on both Harden and Westbrook.

Craig went into the game looking as if he was out of the rotation, but when the Nuggets needed his defense most, he delivered which Malone said was one of the biggest keys to Denver’s victory.

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