The Denver Nuggets, winner of two-straight games, had completed the year 2018 as the first seed in the dominant Western Conference. Through 34 games, Denver emerged as an elite team in the NBA, but there were still 48 games left to play in 2019.
In their home matchup with the New York Knicks, the Nuggets were looking to continue their winning ways and also begin the new year on a positive note.
As the Nuggets were preparing for their 35th game of the season, they received a boost prior to tip off. The team announced that Gary Harris, who had missed 11 games with a right hip injury, was active and available to play. That good news came to light one game after the Nuggets welcomed back Paul Millsap from injury as well. The Nuggets are getting healthy at a rapid pace.
By the time the final buzzer had sounded, the Nuggets managed to ride Jokic’s triple-double and Malik Beasley’s hot shooting to their 24th win of the season against just 11 losses to remain as the first seed in the Western Conference. Denver came away with their third-striaght win by a score of 115-108.
From the moment the game tipped off, the Nuggets’ offense was firing on all cylinders. Torrey Craig came out gunning and scored eight points in just over two minutes to begin the game for the Nuggets. The biggest reason for Craig’s early scoring outburst was because Jokic created multiple wide open looks for him as a facilitator. Jokic started the game with four assists in under four minutes and was orchestrating the Nuggets offense as if it was his own personal symphony.
Inversely, Denver’s defense struggled early. They allowed the Knicks to catch fire from 3-point range early in the game, but as the quarter progressed, Denver’s defense stiffened and, to no ones’ surprise, their defense improved once both Paul Millsap and Gary Harris entered the game.
As the first frame came to a close, Denver’s struggles closing quarters reared its ugly head. The Nuggets led 26-23 with 1:39 left in the quarter, but they allowed the Knicks to go on an 11-2 run and carried a four-point deficit into the second quarter by a score of 32-28.
The second quarter began exactly as the first quarter ended. Denver gave up two easy buckets in the first 53 seconds and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone called a quick timeout. After talking about how the Nuggets need to defend better in his pregame press conference, Malone was irate that his team was not getting the message.
As Denver’s defense continued to struggle, Jokic continued creating wide open looks for his teammates. Jokic’s equal-opportunity play style was on full display as he was throwing highlight reel pass after highlight reel pass. By the time halftime arrived, Jokic had compiled an absurd 10 assists and he did so in only 18 minutes of action.
Once the second quarter ended, the Nuggets regained some momentum, but not the lead. They carried a one-point deficit into the second half by a score of 56-55 knowing that if they wanted to come away with their third-straight win, Denver would need to find a way to resurrect their once dominant defense. The reason Denver was able to get themselves back within one possession after being down by as many as 10 points was because they tightened up their defense to end the quarter as they closed the first half on an 8-0 run.
Denver badly needed a strong start to the third quarter and that is exactly what they accomplished. Their defense was somewhat stingy, their offense was explosive, and their shooters were draining big-time 3-pointers seemingly every possession.
For as well as Denver started the third quarter, they failed to keep up their inspired play for all 12 minutes. Their defense continued to struggle containing penetration and Denver’s offense fell apart without Jokic on the floor. The only saving grace for the Nuggets was Millsap, who had seven points and one offensive rebound in the third quarter. He was also a terror defensively, but his inspired play was not enough to help Denver carry a lead into the fourth and final quarter.
After retaking the lead 72-69 at the 6:08 mark of the third quarter, Denver then allowed the Knicks to go on a 15-10 run to finish out the frame. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Nuggets trailed 84-82.
The beginning of the fourth quarter was owned by the Nuggets and that became apparent immediately. Denver began the final 12 minutes of regulation by getting a big alley-oop dunk for Mason Plumlee, a post-up bucket for Millsap, and two big-time 3-pointers for Malik Beasley. Suddenly, after training by two points entering the final quarter, Denver led by five points and had all of the momentum on their side.
As the fourth quarter began to close, the Knicks started to climb back into the game as Emmanuel Mudiay, the former Nuggets starting point guard, began to get hot on offense. Mudiay did everything he could to beat his former team, but he was outplayed by Jokic, who refused to fall to the nine-win Knicks at home.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Jokic managed to secure his third triple-double of the season and accumulated 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 15 assists on an efficient 8-of-16 shooting from the floor. Outside of Jokic, it was Craig and Beasley who shouldered much of the scoring burden. Beasley finished with 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting including five made 3-pointers, six rebounds, and five assists. Craig finished with 13 points of his own on 5-of-10 shooting. In the second half, it was Millsap who was huge for the Nuggets on both ends as he finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Next, the Nuggets will head out onto the road to take on the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night as the Nuggets look for their fourth-consecutive win. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Malone, who was the head coach in Sacramento before he was hired by the Nuggets. That game will tip off at 8pm MST on Thursday night.