After one of the worst losses of the 2023-24 season on Sunday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Denver Nuggets had an opportunity to turn the page against the Detroit Pistons, holding an 11-game winning streak at the time.

Unfortunately, the game felt like more of the same, all the way down to frustration with the referees. The Nuggets were clearly frustrated by the calls (and non-calls) assessed to the Nuggets early in the game, and both Michael Malone and Nikola Jokic let the frustration get to them. Malone was assessed two technicals in quick succession late in the first quarter, arguing with and going after one of the referees.

Not to be outdone, Nikola Jokic, who received a technical foul midway through the first quarter, was assessed a technical late in the second half following what the officials deemed to be “play-on” contact from Marvin Bagley III. Jokic raised his hands in frustration during the play, eventually lost the ball, and then went after the official during the dead ball, who assessed him a second technical and ejected Jokic from the contest.

The Nuggets ultimately survived though, putting together a strong defensive effort without Jokic, Malone, or Jamal Murray to win 107-103. The Pistons’ losing streak extended to 12 games, and while it was lucky for the Nuggets that they were facing the Pistons tonight, they still had to get the job done.

Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the way with 21 and 20 points apiece, doing most of their damage in the second half. Jackson did a great job of orchestrating the Nuggets offense and getting downhill in the pick and roll. Jackson’s floater was working well for him, and he balanced it out with six assists and a better defensive effort in the second half.

Where the Nuggets would be without Jackson is a mystery. Given the injury to Murray, the Nuggets needed someone stable that they could trust. With Jokic out too, they needed someone who could create positive shots, and Jackson did just that in the second half.

Caldwell-Pope was great throughout, and his defense on Cade Cunningham in the closing minutes helped the Nuggets secure a victory. Caldwell-Pope had two blocks and two steals, and while Cunningham had a strong game himself, he was clearly disrupted enough in crunch time for the Nuggets to retake the lead.

Another player who deserves plenty of credit is Aaron Gordon, stepping up and providing strong all-around play. Gordon finished with only 11 points, but he had eight rebounds and seven assists, switching onto opposing perimeter players consistently and forcing the Pistons into tough shots.

Gordon also hit 3-of-4 free throws tonight, all three of his makes coming in the pressure cooker when the Nuggets needed every single point they could get.

Michael Porter Jr. struggled to read the floor in the first half, but he came alive in the second half with a better all-around performance too. Just another player to step up and do what needed to be done.

Lastly, Christian Braun started the second half in place of Jokic, and the Nuggets played a smaller, switchable brand of basketball. Braun made a strong individual impact with 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, and two stocks. Braun went 5-of-10 from the field, 2-of-2 from three, and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. His scoring has been extremely helpful, and he also contributed some good defense in the clutch. Braun is now shooting 38.5% from three on the season despite a poor start to the year.

This game had disaster potential when Malone and Jokic were thrown out. The Nuggets ultimately survived, but the feeling would have been drastically different if they hadn’t. Yes, it’s only one game out of 82, but the Nuggets have goals, and if they want to be the top seed in the Western Conference again, losing games like these can add up in a negative way.

Still, the Nuggets averted the worst case scenario and finally got a win on the road, their first since October 30th.

Let’s see if they can get another one in Wednesday vs the Orlando Magic.

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