The Denver Nuggets are coming off of a game where they were completely embarrassed at home as they fell 125-121 to a depleted Atlanta Hawks team on Tuesday evening. The Nuggets defense did not show up and their second unit struggled as they have in most games to start the season.
That means Thursday’s game was about getting back to the basics and playing a more complete game.
Denver used one of their best second halves of basketball all season to rally and pull off a 101-93 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. With that, I give you the first good, great awesome of the season.
Good – Paul Millsap turns back the clock
It was a great atmosphere at the Pepsi Center on Thursday evening. Their engaged crowd was ready to cheer their team on in front of a national television audience.
Although the Nuggets started out a bit slow, Denver left it to their savvy veteran to bring them some life and his spark helped rally Denver back into the game.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 15, 2019
“Paul is playing at a high level,” Malone said immediately after the game when he was asked about what ignited the offense.
Millsap was a constant force down low for Denver. He had his way in the paint against the undersized Brooklyn defenders. He defended at a high level, made sure to get on the boards, and his offense has been a welcomed revelation on a team that has struggled offensively. Simply stated, it seemed the game plan was to give it to him early and often and Millsap delivered.
He finished with 18 points and nine rebounds while also knocking down two 3-pointers by the time the final buzzer sounded. That production was enough to get Nikola Jokic to take a shot at him in his post-game presser.
“Paul is playing like he is 21, not 77,” Jokic joked.
Great – Juancho Hernangomez shines
Prior to the game, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone spoke to the media about there being some changes to his second unit in hopes of it providing a spark to a struggling bench.
With Malik Beasley still on the shelf due to injury, the bench would have to get a different spark and Juancho Hernangomez delivered.
The lineup change yielded different results as the bench won the battle of the second units and Hernangomez made the best of his opportunity and perhaps built a case for additional minutes.
“I thought Juancho was a difference maker,” Malone said when speaking of his fourth-year small forward. “I give Juancho so much credit. He had not played in the first 10 games and I wanted to throw him out there knowing that he would provide us spark, energy.”
Hernangomez managed to only score two points as he went 1-4 from the field, but found other ways to affect the game.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 15, 2019
Hernangomez provided infectious energy, grabbed eight rebounds, and was also a part of the Nuggets’ most-pivotal run of the game where the second unit highlighted a 30-18 third-quarter push that had the game tied at 79-79 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hernangomez may have played sparingly for the Nuggets early in the season, but he had one of the most productive summers of any NBA player this past summer which set the table for his 2019-20 season with the Nuggets.
He was an integral part of the Spain National Team that won gold at the FIBA Basketball World Cup and came into the season with high expectations. In the first 11 games, he had only played spotty minutes on a bench unit that is still attempting to find themselves. But on Thursday that did not matter as he displayed that — no matter when he is called upon — he will be ready, a characteristic his head coach admires.
“What I loved about Juancho is not once — even though it is killing him inside — did he ever feel sorry for himself, did he ever stop working; it is not in his nature. He wasn’t raised that way so I applaud him and that’s why I knew he would stay ready. I knew when I called on him tonight — I didn’t know if he would make a shot, but I knew he would go out there and give tremendous effort and that is why I wanted him to go out there and give a little bit of life, little bit of juice and he provided exactly that.”
Awesome – Resilient bunch
Everyone has heard the phrase,“it’s not how you start, but how you finish.”
Thursday was a game that the Nuggets put that quote into action.
Denver did not get off on the right foot, but finished with one of their strongest halves of the entire season.
Denver went into the second half down 61-49, but they did not look up at the scoreboard; they just continued to fight back to pull off the gutsy win.
“I challenged our guys at halftime,” Malone said before discussing what got Denver back in the game.
“I thought our defense got us going, ignited our break,. We started rebounding and running more and that is when we are at our best.”
The Nuggets fought back as they took a 30-18 advantage in the third quarter to head into the fourth quarter all tied up.
Their bench made positive contributions, the Nuggets only finished with 101 points on the night, and had seven players finish in double figures, but it was their defense that really opened things up as Denver put together a phenomenal second half performance one the defensive end of the floor.
Denver limited the Nets to only 32 points total in the second half, their best defensive performance of the season.
The offense is not completely back, but different players stepped up and the defense limited the Nets — who came into the game top-five in the league in pace — to only 93 points on the night.
From that point of view, it is easy to see why — despite the Nuggets not playing their best basketball — have an 8-3 record and sit near the top the Western Conference.