Trailing 46-38 early in the second quarter, Michael Malone found himself in search mode.
His typically staunch starting lineup was deep in the negatives. His bench wasn’t giving him anything either. So Malone dialed up a five-man grouping that he had barely used this season in an attempt to jumpstart his team.
A Nuggets lineup featuring Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, Julian Strawther, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic managed to piece together a 15-7 run over the next three minutes of action to tie the score at 53.
It was the first glimpse of Nuggets basketball that we saw Sunday night.
All of a sudden, the Nuggets’ fly-around mentality on defense returned. Denver finally was getting stops. It resulted in easy baskets in transition. The Nuggets executed on offense, played together, and manufactured great looks.
In that three minute span, the Nuggets shot 6-7 from the floor. They didn’t turn the ball over and held the Cavs to 2-8 shooting (0-5 from 3-point range).
They managed to (briefly) shutdown the Cavs’ offense for a full 24 seconds.
Another missed three led to a high-percentage fast break bucket.
They defended the paint, which again led to more quality transition looks.
This lineup flew around on defense. What an awesome play by the rookie.
It also produced one of the prettiest Nuggets’ sequences of the year.
There’s a lot to like about this grouping.
The Caldwell-Pope, Braun, Strawther, Gordon, Jokic lineup features…
- No traditional point guard, but do you really need one with Jokic?
- The Nuggets’ two best defenders in Caldwell-Pope and Braun.
- The Nuggets’ best backline defender in Gordon.
- Two knockdown shooters in Caldwell-Pope and Strawther.
- Guards that can push the ball and finish in transition.
- Tons of length and no one shorter than 6-foot-5.
- The ability to switch 1-4 on defense.
- And of course, Jokic — any lineup with him is going to have have a chance.
It feels like a pseudo death lineup that should have the ability to catch fire and go on runs like it did in Cleveland.
Unfortunately, Denver’s starters couldn’t keep pace with Cavs once the Nuggets’ first five subbed back into the game to close the first half. The starters then played poorly again to open the third quarter, Jokic was called for back-to-back offensive fouls — his fourth and fifth personals of the game — and that was all she wrote.
Denver starting off its five-game road trip 0-2 is hardly ideal. The Nuggets are now a perfect 7-0 at home but just 2-4 when they’re not playing at a Mile High. It’s also unlikely that Denver gets Jamal Murray back during this roadtrip, which runs through Nov. 24 when the Nuggets visit the Rockets.
Until he returns, the Nuggets will need to get imaginative with their lineups, like they did with this one. Malone will likely need to mix and match both with his starters and bench and hope to land on some difference-making combinations.
Hopefully we see that lineup again tonight against the Pistons.