Nuggets scrape and claw their way past the Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) elbows Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the chin in the first quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Dec 10, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) elbows Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the chin in the first quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets, fresh off of a season-long 10-day road trip, had to face off against the tough and gritty Memphis Grizzlies without six players on their roster, including three starters. In addition to the six players out with injury, Jamal Murray was also playing hurt which meant that the odds were not in Denver’s favor.

By the time the game had ended, Nikola Jokic led the depleted Nuggets to a big time victory over the Grizzlies to help end the Nuggets two-game losing streak. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets lead 105-99 for their 18th win of the 2018-19 season.

The first quarter was a massive struggle for the Nuggets on both ends of the floor. The offensive spacing with both Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig in the starting lineup made the painted area congested and inaccessible for the majority of the first six minutes. Defensively, they continued to give up great look after great look to the Grizzlies before eventually upping their effort later in the quarter.

If not for the inspired and assertive play of Nikola Jokic, and plenty of open missed shots by the Grizzlies, Denver’s first quarter debacle could have been significantly more detrimental. Thankfully, Denver’s defense and offense both got back on track once the Nuggets bench unit entered the game. Malik Beasley and Monte Morris and back-to-back 3-pointers while their defense started collecting stops on the other end which eventually led to Denver carrying a 26-22 lead into the second quarter. Jokic led the way with 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting.

To begin the second quarter, the Nuggets bench unit gave away all of the momentum they had grabbed at the end of the first quarter. Tyler Lydon started the second quarter for the Nuggets for his first stretch of meaningful minutes of his career, but was subbed out just two minutes in after getting beaten on defense multiple times.

Once Lydon left the floor, the Nuggets went on an 11-to-7 run and regained a four-point lead. From there, Denver’s reserves treaded water and gave the starting unit a one-point lead to work with before halftime.

By the time the second quarter buzzer sounded, the Nuggets managed to extend their lead to five points and led 55-50 at halftime. Jokic continued to feast on whoever was defending him and at halftime he already had racked up 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field. Murray filled in multiple gaps and had 7 points, 4 assists, and two steals without committing a single turnover.

The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair for both teams until the Nuggets began to rip apart at the seems. The Grizzlies stayed on the gas and the Nuggets began to bicker with one another because of a lack of communication on the defense end of the floor. Before long, the Nuggets five-point lead had morphed into a seven-point deficit as the Grizzlies began the second half on a 22-10 run.

That is when Jokic decided he had enough. Instead of continuing to argue with his teammates, Jokic took it upon himself to carry the Nuggets when they needed it most. He began relentlessly attacking anyone and everyone in his path and he could not be stopped. He was showing off Hakeem Olajuwon-esque post moves, hitting one-footed Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway jump shots, pushing the pace in transition, and just bullying smaller players in the post. When he wasn’t scoring he was creating great looks for his teammates. Jokic was able to do whatever he wanted offensively and also continued to give great effort on defense.

As Jokic was dominating, Monte Morris also began to produce at a high level as well. In the third quarter alone, Morris was able to put up nine points on 4-of-4 shooting as well as two assists and a steal.

Even with Jokic becoming virtually unstoppable, the Nuggets still were only able to carry an 84-83 lead into the fourth and final quarter.

Once the fourth quarter began, it was the Grizzlies that were grabbing most of the momentum. That is when Morris turned into a walking bucket and helped the Nuggets’ offense get back on track. He was individually dragging the Nuggets back into the game and was successful in doing so. Then the rest of the Nuggets offense began to wake up and their 3-point shots began to fall.

Then, as quickly as the Nuggets offense caught fire, it fizzled out just as quickly. Suddenly, the Nuggets were back to begging for a bucket for the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, but Jokic refused to be stopped. Even with a stagnant offense and an exhausted defense, Jokic rose above the adversity and carried the Nuggets to a huge win with the help of some huge defensive sequences from Mason Plumlee.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, Nikola Jokic managed to accumulate 27 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and two steals in 38 minutes of action while shooting 9-for-13 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. Monte Morris also hand one of his best games of the season with 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists on 8-for-12 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point distance. In addition to the strong play of Morris and Jokic, Jamal Murray also played well; especially considering how banged up he is. Murray finished with 16 points, five assists, and four steals with only one turnover.

Next, the Nuggets will stay at home and continue their four-game home stand by hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, December 14th. Denver will be looking to continue their dominance against the Northwest Division against the surging Thunder while the Thunder are looking to even the season series against Denver. That game will tip off at 8pm MST.