Behind Nikola Jokic's double-double, the blocks and the determination of Mason Plumlee, and the scoring skill of the young Denver guards, not the others, the Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat at Denver 103-87. Jokic had 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists, Plumlee had three blocks and some key points and rebounds, while Malik Beasley and Monte Morris scored 37 combined points to make up for the rest nights of Will Barton and Jamal Murray, who are still recovering I race the heat to the finish line. The Heat had five players in double figures, but Justise Winslow had a maximum of 15 players, since no one could put the team on their backs in this endeavor on the way.
The Nuggets had consecutive turn changes to start the game with poor communication, which led to a score and a quick time for regrouping. Mason Plumlee returned with a pair of cubes and Beasley attacked to get another paint score and a three to tie the game at 9 o'clock. Jokic led a pair of quick transitional breaks for points, but the Heat bombed three times early to make up the difference. The Nuggets continued to play ugly basketball, but enough shots fell to a 17-15 lead midway through the quarter.
Monte Morris connected a three and a float when he entered from the bank, but Dwyane Wade responded with a runner of his own. Paul Millsap surprised three, then created a rotation that became another Morris three and increased the lead to 7 for Denver. Another robbery by Millsap, which looked cool from the start, turned into a spectacular dunk by Torrey Craig, but Morris put the ball back in the basket and buried the final shot with 13 points in the first quarter when Denver finished leading 35- 27 after one.
After a couple of failures from Denver, Paul Millsap had a good turnaround for a bucket to start Denver's second-quarter score, but his follow-up was three. However, the Heat kept pressing the offensive glass and pushing in, closing to 39-38 with four minutes to go. Jokic started only 2-for-7 and Denver's cold streak from the floor allowed Miami to retake the lead. Finally, Jokic took a shot and then buried a three when Denver's offense was shaken when he went into double figures.
Olynyk hit Jokic in the face in a rebound, and then was called to push Jamal Murray to the ground, but Denver continued to attack the basket in spite of everything. Unfortunately, the Heat did as well and Denver's cold shooting quarter (5-for-20 in the first 10 minutes of the second) kept the score where the Heat wanted it. Jokic handled the score in the second quarter as did Morris in the first, placing the last 8 Denver points of the quarter, including three accumulated. That effort kept Denver up 54-49 in the middle despite a 1-for-9 combination of Murray and Barton.
The Nuggets came out flat on the first plays of the second half, but both teams fought a little until Malik Beasley hit home a dunk, then another in a break after a Plumlee block. Plumlee hit one finger and then another block in Whitesite when the Nuggets found a little energy, but not much, a 61-57 lead. Jamal Murray finally got his first three in six attempts for a 9-point lead in Denver, then Barton's three made it 12 when the Nuggets rushed in at both ends and Miami simply could not keep up.
Murray hit another three and a steal by Morris led to more points, while Jokic continued to hit the glass and hit the line for a 16-0 run for Denver. Miami recovered from a deficit of 12 points, but Denver kept the pressure and led 83-70 after three.
Malik Beasley returned to the game in the fourth with a hard drive to the basket that resulted in free throws and a transitional corner three. The two teams exchanged some uncomfortable basketball for a while and until Beasley hit another transition three, showing that nice shape. Beasley had Denver's first 11 points in the fourth to increase the lead to 20 to 94-74. The two teams exchanged buckets in the section that was not enough offensive for Miami to reach it. The most exciting thing happened when Beasley had Olynyk put the dunk in; then, a rotation of Miami in the transition of that block led to a Malik of three setbacks.
The Nuggets got big early and often tonight and they paid it. Denver really recovered tonight, but its three big keys – Jokic, Millsap and Plumlee – managed 30 combined rebounds and both Plumlee and Millsap brought great effort and enthusiasm into their performances. Jokic was too big for Miami to drive in despite his 7 turnovers, and on a night when a pair of Denver's more natural scorers were hampered, the Denver greats helped change the course.
Alignments – and health – matter. First, a quote from Adam Mares, from Stiffs:
That lineup had a career of 18-3 and probably could have been more. A few quick peaks and three quarters lost. Denver could have something in this lineup. I hope we have more minutes sprinkled on.
– Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) February 12, 2019
That is an alignment formed by necessity, but necessity is called the mother of invention for a reason. Denver needs these alignments, needs the ability to mix and match its healthy contributors and get a good combination of offensive ability and on-court space at the same time. The wrong combinations have hit Denver at times this year, but tonight Denver had quick breaks, energy and scoring in all areas of the court. They found the energy to knock Heat's tired squad down in the third and kept the pressure in the room with their reserves.
It would be good if Michael Malone has the ability to mix and match his pieces to get the right ones on the court. Tonight, with Barton and Murray fighting at both ends for much of the game, he put together that lineup that ignited the third quarter. As Adam said, I hope we see more in the future. Denver needs that fire while the rest of the team recovers.
Reservations playing as holders. The rocks of Malik Beasley. That is all. Monte Morris saved the first half for Denver and Malik Beasley closed the door. It's hard to be an anonymous hero when we sing praises from both men quite often, but it's hard to overstate the importance of both guards for the Nuggets throughout this injury-filled season. It is a merit for the work that both have tuned when requested. No matter what happens to health the rest of the way, both should be in heavy rotation in the future.