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Golden Nuggets: The new-look starting lineup, grind-it-out basketball and Gary Harris' clutch play

Christian Clark Avatar
October 18, 2018

Eleven nuggets for the 11 points Paul Millsap labored to score in the Nuggets’ 107-98 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on opening night.

1. This one got interesting at the end, but let’s start at the beginning. We got our first real look at Denver’s new starting lineup: Jamal Murray and Gary Harris at the guard spots. Will Barton at small forward. Millsap and Nikola Jokic in the front court. Of those five, it was the most recent addition who came out firing. Barton scored Denver’s first points of the season on a transition flush. He wound up with 19 on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from 3. There were spots when Barton’s small stature hurt him defensively — Tobias Harris beasted him down low in the second quarter — but for the most part, Barton scored well in his first test of the 2018-19 season. It was further confirmation of what anyone who’s watched him the last two years already understands: the moment isn’t going to be too big for him.

2. Also noteworthy early on: Nuggets coach Michael Malone played 10 guys in the first quarter. Mimicking his preseason substitution patterns, Malone threw out an all-bench lineup of Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee. The bench mob played well in the first half but struggled in the second half. Denver has a talented roster. Looks like Malone plans to use it.

3. Remember Boban Marjanovic? The 7-foot-3 iceberg the Nuggets struck seven months back that derailed their season? On Wednesday, he was back, still large and still imposing. Marjanovic scored 18 points in 17 minutes. He had four and-1s. In the fourth quarter, he threw down a dunk powerful enough to break the rim. He nearly led Los Angeles to another comeback win.

4. “He understands the game,” Jokic said about his fellow Serbian and best friend in the league. “He’s not just a big guy that’s out there dunking the ball.”

5. While Marjanovic was feasting, Millsap was struggling. Millsap missed the first six shots he took. He didn’t get a basket to go until late in the fourth quarter, which put Denver ahead 95-94 and gave it the lead for good. The Nuggets’ starting power forward has looked shaky offensively since the start of the preseason. However, he was impactful on the other end with a steal, a block, 13 defensive rebounds and sold rotations all night. Denver outscored L.A. by 20 points when Millsap was on the floor.

6. Weird game for Millsap, weird game for his front court partner. Jokic passed up too many shots early on. He took his time settling in as he often does. He didn’t look crisp but still recorded 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He sunk eight free throws in 10 trips to the free throw line. He hit a clutch 3 late in the fourth quarter that cut the Clippers’ lead to one, and on the ensuing possession, he let out a series of fiery fist bumps after drawing an offensive foul. He played much of the game with a bloody nose. Gutsy effort, even if it wasn’t his cleanest.

7. Remember when Denver had to play well on offense to win? Those days seem to be in the past. We saw the Nuggets score some grind-it-out wins toward the end of the 2017-18 season, when they closed the year 6-1. They did it again Wednesday in game No. 1 of the 2018-19 campaign. They shot 37.9 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3. They went 3-5 in games they shot worse than 40 percent last season. They’re 1-0 this season.

8. When you’re not shooting the ball well, it helps to take care of it. The Nuggets did just that, committing only 11 turnovers. They played relatively clean basketball. That mattered in a game that wasn’t decided until the final minute.

9. “I didn’t shoot well. The team didn’t shoot well,” said Murray, who went 3-for-12 from the field. “There was just no panic. I think we’re a lot calmer compared to the other games where we tend to rush things or not trust each other in certain situations. We just kept playing, and the thing was coach did less play calling, just more simple actions.”

10. Back to that final minute: Harris is cooler than a frozen cucumber late in games. His step-back jumper over Montrezl Harell gave Denver a four-point advantage with 45 seconds to play. The Nuggets have too much firepower to think they’ll repeatedly go to one guy late in games, but what are the chances that Harris turns out to be their best crunch-time scorer this year? He’s gotten a lot better at creating his own shot.

11. Malone made a good move late in the game by subbing Plumlee in for defensive purposes. The Plumdog Millionaire came in for Jokic and iced the game with a block. It was a little reminiscent of his late-game swat against Oklahoma City in March, even if the stakes weren’t quite as high this time around.

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