The Denver Nuggets continued the trend of winning games that previous Nugget teams would have lost on Wednesday night, edging the Chicago Bulls 108-107 in OT.
When the Denver Nuggets brass told us they were going to focus on defending the three-point line but not to expect the team to be a lock-down defensive unit on media day were they trolling us?
This team, anchored by Paul Millsap and Torrey Craig on the starting unit, is getting unexpected contribution from a much-improved Nikola Jokic on defense and maximum effort from Jamal Murray. Murray has perfected the “I’m not touching you” defense at the three-point line. It’s kind of funny to see but it’s been effective at disrupting shooters.
There’s been an interesting backlash from Nuggets fans to begin the season. The idea that Denver would be blowing everyone out like Golden State is doing (not the Nuggets) has fans making absurd proclamations about a 6-1 team.
“Paul Millsap shouldn’t touch the ball on offense.” is one popular take. Millsap’s line from Chicago: 19 points on 61.5% shooting, six rebounds, three blocks and an overtime tip-in to win the game. It’s a really good thing for Denver that he touched the ball.
“Jamal Murray isn’t a TRUE point guard” is another, whatever that means. As we’ve discussed previously, the definition of “true” PG appears to vary depending on what needs to be defined about a player’s game. The Nuggets are built such that the backcourt is honestly two shooting guards. Murray’s job is to get the ball to Jokic, which he does effectively.
We should be excited that the Nuggets have a fallback position with the improved defense. It’s glorious to see Denver win without scoring 120 every night. As the Houston Rockets learn in the playoffs every year, when scoring disappears and you can’t rely on defense, it’s disastrous. The beautiful thing about it is that Denver’s current shooting woes won’t last. They are a better shooting team than they’ve shown.
Nikola Jokic sputtered in the first half and seemed off, as he did two nights earlier against the New Orleans Pelicans. The thing is, he still finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. More remarkable are his two steals and three blocks. The idea of Jokic as a defensive liability is becoming as antiquated as questions about his shot or athleticism. The only remaining concern with Nikola is turnovers, he had six against Chicago.
The second team underperformed a bit, Monte Morris was solid but unspectacular as were Trey Lyles and Malik Beasley. Mason Plumlee was strong once again with 13 points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Mase got robbed of a great hustle steal in the fourth when he dove over a prone Bulls player for a steal. He was whistled for the foul but replay confirmed it was a WWE-esque move.
The increased attention to the defensive side has paid dividends for Denver and has allowed them to work out the offensive side without having to take L’s in the process. It’s entirely possible that last year’s Nuggets would be 1-6 and in panic mode. That they can grind out wins should be as exciting as the news about the return of the rainbow jerseys.
For the Bulls, it’s worth mentioning that Zach LaVine is a really good basketball player. LaVine did his best to carry Chicago but the Nuggets were able to shit him down when needed late.
On to Cleveland, a possible trap game but it’s hard to see the 1-6 Cavaliers putting up much of a fight.