Second-half rally saves Nuggets in comeback win over Nets

Denver’s depth is only as imposing as its reserves make it.

On Thursday, with stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray struggling, the Nuggets’ second unit made all the difference in its 101-93 win over a feisty Brooklyn squad. The Nuggets improved to 8-3 on the year.

Denver’s reserves poured in 24 during the second-half rally, and they were buoyed by strong individual efforts from Paul Millsap and Will Barton. The two veterans combined for 35 points to help offset Murray’s awful night. Murray managed just 1 of 11 from the floor for 4 points, and Jokic added 18 points and 10 rebounds, but he was hardly the offensive centerpiece the Nuggets typically rely on.

Instead, they got significant contributions from Jerami Grant (12 points), Monte Morris (10) and Mason Plumlee (10). Juancho Hernangomez, who played sparingly throughout the early portion of the season, grabbed eight rebounds and brought his typical hustle.

“Great energy,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I thought Juancho was the difference-maker tonight. I give Juancho so much credit, had not played in the first 10 games. I wanted to throw him out there knowing that he’d provide a spark, energy. Jerami, Mason, Monte, seven assists, no turnovers. I thought those guys were terrific.”

Brooklyn clawed until the end even though Thursday marked the seventh day of a five-city road trip. Their awful 3-point shooting – the Nets were 0-of-17 from 3-point range in the second half – gave the Nuggets an opening.

Kyrie Irving managed just 17 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field.

The Nets, with a double-digit lead, were threatening to pull away in the third quarter before Denver’s defense came to life. Their closeouts were tighter and their interior defense, led by Plumlee and Millsap, was far stouter.

And on offense, Millsap played with a bounce that was reminiscent of his Atlanta years.

By the end of the run, the Nuggets had reeled off a 30-18 quarter authored mostly by their bench unit. Morris connected on a momentum-swinging 3-pointer and Grant tried a massive one-handed dunk that was so audacious the Pepsi Center crowd was buzzing for the entire defensive sequence.

“I’m so mad,” Grant joked in the postgame locker room.

After the rally, the Nuggets entered the fourth quarter tied at 79.

Earlier on Thursday, Morris bemoaned the Nuggets’ defensive effort against Atlanta, which did little to stem the 42-point eruption from Trae Young.

“It was hard to even watch good clips,” Morris said. “Even when we had film, it was 22 bad clips. They said it was hard to find any good ones.”

Whatever message was discussed between games evidently didn’t land, at least in the early going.

Said Malone prior to the game: “In our seven wins, our defense is third-best in the NBA. In our three losses, we have the worst defense in the NBA. And that’s across the board, field goal, 3-point.”

Getting burned by Young proved to be inadequate preparation for Irving, who finished the first half with seven points and eight assists.

“Kyrie Irving is one of the top point guards in the world,” Malone said. “So if we thought Trae Young was tough, this is just an even greater challenge. I just can’t put that challenge on Jamal, or the guy who’s guarding him. It has to be a team effort, and we have to be a lot more disciplined in our approach.”

Malone did his best to jolt his team’s lackluster offense with new rotations, but early minutes for Michael Porter Jr. and Hernangomez did nothing to curtail the Nets’ scoring. Brooklyn picked apart Denver’s previously stingy defense as part of a 61-49 halftime lead.

The Nets had four players with at least nine points in the first half, while the Nuggets had just two.

And for the majority of the half, it looked like Millsap was the only Nuggets player intent on competing. Both he and Jokic finished with 12 points each, with Millsap’s second-quarter power dunk providing the only real moment of inspiration.

Overall, Denver’s interior defense was abysmal. If it wasn’t Irving carving apart his defender, it was Spencer Dinwiddie finding seams. After two quarters, the Nets had 28 points in the paint and held a 30-24 rebounding advantage.

Denver’s offense, meanwhile, managed just 38% shooting over the first two quarters.




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