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J.J. Hickson had season-highs in points and rebounds with 19 and 13 respectively, and Emmanuel Mudiay poured in a career high 18 points and five assists as the Denver Nuggets got their first home win of the young season 108-104 (1-2 at home).
Hickson, who got the start at center after the Nuggets went small last game in Golden State, played quite possibly his best game as a Nugget, but also one of the better games of his career. He was a constant force in the paint from the start, rolling effectively to the rim on offense, but more importantly being the leader of Denver’s defense tonight.
“What I like about J.J. is he’s probably been the loudest guy on our defense, really talking on defense and that’s been a point of emphasis for us because you have to talk on defense to make sure you have five guys working as one,” head coach Michael Malone said. “So J.J.’s activity, his communication, his length at the rim has been a positive for us.”
Hickson was the stabilizer throughout the night. While Mudiay made the game-winning plays down the stretch for Denver; going toe-to-tow with Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard on the most important possessions of a tight fourth quarter.
Mudiay and Hickson hooked up on a 4-on-2 fast break to put the Nuggets up 95-93 with a little over four minutes remaining, then blocked Lillard at the rim with two minutes left with Denver up three. The rookie then blocked another Lillard shot at the rim with under 10 seconds left to seal the deal for the Nuggets.
Although Mudiay arguably put together the best game of his career tonight, he still sees room for improvement.
“I’m my hardest critic so I still feel like I can get some stuff better,” Mudiay said. “I missed two free throws, then two turnovers [which were] dumb turnovers, but at the same time we won, so that’s the main thing and we’re just going to try and build confidence going into Milwaukee.”
Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, 7:00 pm (MST) at Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
The Manimal Continues to Produce
Kenneth Faried provided more of that energy Malone said the Nuggets found tonight as his 17 points and 7 rebounds paced Denver early on. It was the Manimal’s third game with at least 17 points and 7 rebounds this year. Denver has gone 3-0 when Faried achieves those marks.
Randy Foye steps in at point guard
Shortly before the game Jameer Nelson was ruled out with a lower back strain, but Foye stepped in admirably and was a positive tonight for the Nuggets. Foye finished with 13 points, which led the reserves in scoring, and three assists in 20 minutes. He also finished a +8 on the night, the highest +/- out of any Nuggets player.
Will Barton closes the game
For much of the fourth quarter, Malone opted to stick with the red-hot Barton off the bench instead of Gary Harris, who had himself a good game in his own right. Like Hickson, Barton provided the Nuggets with more of that energy that had been so severely lacking during their two previous home games. Barton, who was dealt to Denver in a midseason trade with Portland last year, finished with 11 points on 4-7 shooting in 23 minutes.
“I think as a team, collectively, we had great energy tonight,” Malone said. “By far our best game out of our three home games. I was going to bring Gary Harris back in the fourth, Gary’s a very good defender, he’s been shooting the ball well, but Will went on a little bit of a roll, started scoring for us and so I let him stay out there and his length against McCollum or Lillard can also be effective.”
Harris and Barton limited McCollum to 16 points on 6-15 shooting, 12 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.
Tonight wasn’t Gallinari’s best showing as the swingman never really got it going, shooting just 2-10 from the field (0-5 from 3-point land) and only registering six points in just over 35 minutes. Gallo seemed to defer on offense and was passive on defense. Luckily, his teammates picked him up.
Stars of the Game
Hickson played possibly the best game of his career and Barton and Faried brought the much needed energy, but it was Mudiay who took it upon himself to win the game down the stretch.
After two early turnovers, Mudiay could have succumbed to the passive and tentative demeanor he showed in Denver’s two previous home games, but instead stayed on the attack throughout much of the night. Mudiay had an edge to him tonight, especially late in the fourth. For the first time in a while he was coming off ball screens with a purpose, penetrating without the fear of a lingering shot blocker and putting some authority on his passes. In Denver’s first game that was decided by single digits, Mudiay showed out when it counted most.
Plays of the Game
These were pretty obvious as Mudiay came up with the two big blocks posted above, but he also hit a key baseline jumper with the Nuggets up 102-100 with just under a minute left on the game clock that showcased his killer instinct tonight.
By the Numbers
The Nuggets are now 3-0 when they shoot above 50 percent from the field. Coming into tonight, the Trail Blazers were fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage and 3-point attempts per game. Denver limited them to 2-10 shooting from distance.
Quotes of the Game
“Tonight I thought his growth in that fourth quarter of a close game, making the big plays that he made, not just on offense, but also on defense. Having two big blocks, so just a great all around game.” – Michael Malone on Emmanuel Mudiay
Wednesday, November 11 vs. Milwaukee
Next up Denver hosts the Milwaukee Bucks in the second game of their three game homestead which will conclude when they welcome Ty Lawson and the Houston Rockets on Friday.