Nuggets lock down defensively, stump Warriors to reach 6-6 – The Denver Post
If defense is the route to championships, perhaps the Nuggets found something Thursday night.
Despite entering the game ranked 26th in defense, Denver swarmed the Golden State Warriors, hanging on for an impressive 114-104 win against their Western Conference rival. Behind Nikola Jokic’s NBA-leading fifth tripled-double of the season, the Nuggets improved to 6-6 on the season with a game looming Sunday against the Utah Jazz.
“That’s what we need to see,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I showed our team the standings today. We’re in ninth place, on the outside looking in. … The offense has been a consistent. … The challenge is, can we find a way to play defense for 48 minutes?”
In addition to his 23-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist effort, Jokic added a few more thefts to the ledger. He had three of Denver’s 11 steals, forcing the Warriors into 19 turnovers overall.
“Mike Miller always said I’m a Cookie Monster,” Jokic said with a giant grin. “And I’m gonna steal that from him. I’m a cookie monster. Maybe I’m not that good defensively, but I’m a Cookie Monster.”
Their effort on the glass, where the Nuggets owned a 50-43 edge, was also integral to the win.
Jamal Murray added 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists, playing the type of all-consuming basketball the Nuggets expect of him. His counterpart, Steph Curry, had a game-high 35.
No lead is safe against a Curry-led team, and the Warriors came out swinging to start the third. Despite a more aggressive Jokic, the Warriors trimmed the margin to just five with 3:45 left in the period. With momentum hanging in the balance and the intensity ratcheting upwards, Denver went to its second unit to restore control.
First Monte Morris drained a long jumper, then fellow reserve JaMychal Green dumped in an easy look. Next, combo-guard PJ Dozier dropped in a layup before fellow reserve Facundo Campazzo sunk a 3-pointer to end the quarter.
Jokic assisted on the final three baskets, his fingerprints splattered all over the 90-76 lead Denver carried into the fourth.
Green was particularly crucial Thursday night. His 15 points and nine rebounds were an essential boost off the bench.
“Defense is gonna win us games,” Jokic said.
Without regular starter Gary Harris, who missed his second consecutive game due to personal reasons, the rest of the roster chipped in. By the end, seven Nuggets finished with double-digits.
Heading into Thursday night, Malone couldn’t help but admire Curry’s torrid start to the season.
“Having coached him, I think it’s just Steph playing,” Malone said. “This is how he plays. The guy plays extremely hard. When you watch him play, he’s a joy to watch. He’s one of the guys when you watch on film – on one hand you’re scared as hell because it seems like he never misses, but on the other hand, as a fan of this game, to see how hard he plays, the pace at which he plays and cuts and moves, he’s just a tremendous player.”
And with such a healthy appreciation for who Curry is, Malone was loathe to make any excuses for his players.
“I told the guys, I said listen, ‘When he makes a shot tonight, don’t look over at me and say I played good defense when you didn’t because he’s not your ordinary player,’” Malone said. “… Somehow, someway, we gotta try to cut the head off this snake and try to see other players have to make plays.”
For the most part, the Nuggets played sound basketball in the first half and seized a 65-54 lead going into the break. Four different players – Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Murray and Green – reached double-digit scoring figures as the Nuggets benefitted from an unselfish brand of basketball. Even more, the contributions ran up and down the roster, with Denver’s bench outscoring Golden State’s 25-16.
An aggressive Murray set the tone.
After an underwhelming road trip, Murray had an extra gear early, serving up teammates and chasing down rebounds. Perhaps energized by the Curry matchup, Murray brought an invigorated version of himself. With 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals over the first two quarters, he made an impact on both ends.
Jokic, content to spread the scoring wealth all over, saved one highlight for himself. A reverse jam over Warriors rookie James Wiseman drew Denver’s bench mob out of their seats.
As Malone warned, Curry kept the Warriors close. His 18 points on three 3-pointers were an immediate reminder of how dangerous he still is.