Grizzlies out-grind Nuggets in the Grindhouse

Nov 7, 2018; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr (13) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) in the first quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets suffered their second loss of the season Wednesday night as the Memphis Grizzlies clawed their way to a 89-87 victory.

With the loss, Denver’s record moves to 9-2, which is still good for second place in the Western Conference putting them just one game behind the Golden State Warriors.

Similar to other games this season, the Nuggets started the night sluggish and struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm early. The Grizzlies started the opposite way as Jaren Jackson Jr. gave Memphis their first seven points in route to an early 7-3 lead over Denver.

The Nuggets finally got going offensively midway through the first as Jamal Murray continued to score the ball at will. Coupled with a Gary Harris three-pointer, the early four points from Murray kept the Nuggets in the game as they trailed 11-8 at the first media timeout.

Another Harris three-pointer tied the game at 11 before a 4-0 run from Torrey Craig gave the Nuggets their first lead of the night. With a tip-in off a Murray missed three and a driving layup, Craig made his case early as to why he was getting his ninth straight start.

Craig’s offensive spark got the Nuggets going as they finished the quarter 9-20 shooting from the field to give them a 29-22 lead going into the second quarter. After the first, Harris led the way offensively with nine points, while Nikola Jokic scored four points on zero shot attempts to go along with five rebounds and three steals. Even with Jokic not looking for his shot early, he still drew a number of fouls that played a key role in the Nuggets opening the night 8-9 from the free-throw line.

Memphis would strike back against the Nuggets bench unit in the second quarter, but the solid play from Monte Morris, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee kept the Grizzlies at bay as Denver had a 37-33 with 6:27 left before half. Lyles and Morris were looking to score as the two combined for 13 of the Nuggets 14 first half bench points.

Plumlee finished off the free-throw for the three-point play as the Nuggets continued to make the most of their shots from the charity stripe. That continued when the starters subbed back in as Denver was in the bonus with five minutes left before half.

Even with the fouls mounting up for Memphis they were still able to get back in the game as a 6-2 run tied the game at 39 with just over four minutes left in the quarter. After an 8-1 run from Denver, Memphis followed it up with an even better one finishing the half on a 10-0 run to give them a 50-47 lead at the half.

Memphis’ spurt before half was largely in part to Jackson Jr, who had 12 points, three rebounds, three blocks, and two steals at the break. For Denver, they were led by Harris who had 15 points on 4-8 shooting from the field, 3-4 from behind the three-point line. Another notable stat line was Jokic, who finished the half with four points, four assists, and six rebounds, but attempted zero shots in is 14 first half minutes.

Memphis controlled the pace of play to start the second half because of the unaggressive and over passing play from the Nuggets offense. Jokic was a big reason why the Nuggets offense was so lackluster and to pass happy as he had no shot attempts through three quarters. The Grizzlies dominated the game with Jokic on the floor and had a 61-54 lead with five minutes remaining in the third. After picking up his fifth foul midway though the quarter, Jokic went to the bench where he’d sit till the fourth.

With Jokic on the bench, the Nuggets actually improved as a Morris floater, Juancho Hernangomez lay up, and Lyles three-pointer tied the game up at 61. Denver’s second unit continued to play well as the game was tied at 70 going into the fourth quarter. Lyles was a big reason why the Nuggets got back into the game as he had 14 points though three quarters on an efficient 5-6 shooting from the field.

Denver started the fourth on a 7-2 run as the recipe stayed the same, ride the bench unit. With a mix of a few starters, the second unit played a major role in keeping the Nuggets in the game with Jokic on the bench. The bench unit stayed in all the way till the five minute mark, where a Grizzlies push cut the Nuggets lead to one with 5:18 left in the game.

A 10-2 Grizzlies run gave them a 82-79 lead with 4:08 left in the game as Jokic continued to struggle offensively with still no shot attempts and six turnovers. The Nuggets finally regained the lead 83-82 with 1:51 remaining in the game and a chance to steal one on the road.

A Grizzlies three and Denver turnover had the Nuggets behind the eight ball before a Mike Conley floater gave Memphis a four-point lead at the 40 second mark. The Nuggets responded though as a lay in from Lyles and a Murray step back jumper tied the game up at 87. After a quick spurt from the Nuggets, Memphis had a chance to win the game with 17 seconds left.

Two made free-throws from Marc Gasol gave Memphis a two point lead with 4.6 seconds left, now giving the Nuggets a chance to win the game. A Jokic three-pointer — his first shot of the night — went long and the Murray put back attempt fell short to give Memphis the win and Denver their second loss of the season.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Harris, who finished the night with 20 points on 6-16 shooting from the field. Lyles was not far behind with 16 points to go along with nine rebounds, while Murray chipped in 15 points on 6-20 shooting from the field.

The Nuggets have a day off tomorrow before they’re back in action Friday night at home to face the Brooklyn Nets. Friday’s game will be the first of a four game home-stand for Denver as they’ll look to get back into the win column.