With the NBA All-Star break now come and gone and all of the festivities in the rear-view mirror for the Denver Nuggets, they have now turned their attention to the final 25 games of the regular season and their path to the playoffs began in Dallas against the Mavericks on Friday night.
As every team wants to do, the Nuggets were looking to begin the unofficial second half of the season on a positive note. They were well on their way to that outcome before the game even started because Luka Doncic, the Mavericks Slovenian phenom, was ruled out due to an ankle issue prior to the opening tip. Additionally, the Nuggets came into their matchup with Dallas as healthy as they have been all year. Only Michael Porter Jr. and Trey Lyles were ruled out for Denver.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets used an explosive third quarter to propel them to their 40th win of the season. Denver defeated the Mavericks 114-104 in their first game after the All-Star break thanks to the Nuggets playing with an incredible amount of energy on both ends of the floor from start to finish.
The first quarter was eerily reminiscent of the Nuggets from before the All-Star break. They were letting the Mavericks score at will to begin the game and they fell behind early. Their defensive energy was strong, but their execution was not. Thankfully, their energy did not waver and Denver began to string together stops. Still, it was not enough as the Nuggets trailed 30-25 at the end of the first quarter.
Denver’s offense was generating tons of open looks, but their shots were not falling. The Nuggets shot a measly 28.6 percent from the field in the first quarter. Their only saving grace was the fact that the Nuggets shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets freshly-minsted All-Star, was his typical productive self over the first 12 minutes of the game. He was inhaling rebounds, dishing out assist after assist while also scoring when the opportunity presented itself. Jokic’s aggression has not dwindled over the All-Star break which was a very welcomed sight.
The Nuggets, who trailed for nearly every minute of the game, battled their way back to a 37-37 tie with eight minutes left before halftime to begin the second quarter despite being ice cold from the field. From that point forward, Denver slowly started reclaiming some positive momentum.
Denver’s defense and 3-point shooting kept them alive in the first half as the rest of their shots continued to miss their mark. Denver did not fold even though they were missing shots and they were eventually able to finally string together a couple buckets which allowed them to take and hold onto a lead going into halftime.
Still, even after getting a few shots to fall, Denver shot a bitter cold 36.5 percent from the field in the first half, but found a way to take and carry a 52-51 lead over the Mavericks in Dallas. Paul Millsap was the Nuggets unsung hero in the first two quarters of play because he was able to manufacture points when Denver’s offense stalled. After two quarters, he finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
The Nuggets came into the second half with absurd amounts of intensity and urgency. They began the third quarter on a 14-4 run as their offense slowly began to show signs of life and their defensive effort continued to hold strong. In addition to Denver’s improved execution, Denver also was getting down and dirty as they began winning all of the hustle categories. They were abusing the Mavericks on the offensive glass, managed to accumulate 10 steals by the end of the third quarter, and were selling out in order to hold onto their lead.
Then their offense went from ice cold to a blazing inferno as they put up 39 points in the third quarter on 53.8 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent shooting from 3-point range. Murray caught fire and poured in a quick eight points and was a +16 in his 10 minutes of action in the third period.
All of Denver’s effort managed to transform their one-point halftime lead into a 91-74 advantage after three quarters. Denver held the Mavericks to just 23 points in the third quarter on 38.1 percent shooting from the field. Denver also forced six turnovers in the third frame.
The fourth quarter served as a glorified five-on-five session. Isaiah Thomas was able to log significant minutes and get in a rhythm while Denver continued to nurse their lead until time ran out for the Mavericks. Denver eventually came away with a 114-104 win in Dallas for their 15th road win of the season — the same number they had all of last year.
As it has been all season, Jokic led the Nuggets with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 7-of-16 from the field. Paul Millsap thrived in the more sluggish style of play of Denver’s matchup with the Mavericks and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes. When Denver’s offense became stagnant, Millsap found a way to produce. Beasley also continued his hot-shooting and finished with 13 points while hitting 3-of-7 3-pointers. Additionally, Isaiah Thomas had a strong performance in his second game back with 16 points off the bench on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
Next, the Nuggets will head back to the Mile High City to begin a four-game homestand starting with the new-look Los Angeles Clippers. That game will take place on Sunday afternoon at 3pm MST within the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center.