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"I’m Swaggy Presley": Nick Young stands out, fits in in Nuggets debut

Christian Clark Avatar
December 15, 2018

Six nuggets for each point Nick Young scored in his Denver debut, a 109-98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

1. I’m not sure in what instance Pepsi Center got louder: When it had a chance at free Chik-Fil-A when the Thunder were in danger of missing consecutive free throws? Or was it when Swaggy P pump faked, put it on the floor and drilled the 3 that pushed Denver’s lead to nine and forced Billy Donovan to call timeout in the fourth quarter?

“It felt good to see the ball go in the hole, to go from watching cartoons with the family to hitting 3s in the game,” Young said.

Pepsi Center embraced Denver’s newest addition like he was The King playing The Ed Sullivan Show. Their welcome was more than warm; it bordered on hysterical. “I’m like Elvis Presley out here,” Young said. “I’m Swaggy Presley.”

Young, who was signed Monday using the injury hardship relief exception, scored six points in his Nuggets debut. He hit a pair of 3s in nine minutes of floor time. The roof to the Pepsi Center nearly blew off following the second one. Nuggets fans went nuts, and so did the players.

“That’s what I love about our team,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Such a selfless group. Here’s a guy that got here on Sunday. He goes out there tonight, has a little bit of success and everybody on the team is up and rooting for him and cheering for him. I love that about our team: How much we care about each other and how much we root for each other.”

The Nuggets are a tight-knit bunch. That camaraderie, that closeness has helped them weather injuries to three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap. They’re at the top of the Western Conference and this week have beaten two teams in playoff position even though more than 50 percent of their payroll is on the sidelines in street clothes.

“The way they share the ball and get along, it’s hard to find that in the NBA sometimes,” Young said. “The winning teams figure it out.”

2. The Nuggets have asked two of their better defenders to step up while they’re in a pinch. Earlier this week versus Memphis, Malone inserted Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee into the starting lineup to support Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez and Nikola Jokic. That fivesome struggled to score the basketball against the Grizzlies, but it was much better Friday. Craig, who’d made just eight 3s all season entering the game, hit three 3s in the first quarter alone. The Nuggets hit seven as a team and raced out to a 39-32 lead.

“I’ve been struggling on offense all season,” Craig said. “To see a couple shots go down early, it builds confidence.”

Craig played his best offensive game of the season, going for 15 points on seven shots — the first time he’d scored in double digits in 23 games. And on the defensive end, he hounded Russell Westbrook into another poor shooting night. Westbrook shot 5-for-15 from the field and wound up with only 13 points, nearly nine below his season average.

“I think I’ve just been pretty fortunate with my positioning and trying to be physical with him,” Craig said. “Not letting him get to his spots. Just staying into him. Not let him get too comfortable. If there’s a great player who gets comfortable, you’re in for a long night.”

3. Three games without three starters, three games where Jokic shoulders the scoring load. The big Serbian scored 24 points last weekend in Atlanta, 27 in Monday’s win over Memphis and 24 in the victory against OKC. He’s attempting 15.7 field goals per game and shooting 53.7 percent from the field over this three-game stretch. The Nuggets are missing a considerable amount of firepower right now; Jokic has made up for that by taking on more of a scoring role.

“Nikola understands the situation,” Malone said. “When you have no Gary, no Will, no Paul, it’s Jamal’s and Nikola’s responsibility to put the onus on their backs and lead the charge. That doesn’t mean he (Jokic) has to score 40 points. That means he has to be aggressive to look to score, to draw a double team, to make a play. All those things.”

Jokic narrowly missed out on his third triple-double of the season. He also had 15 rebounds and nine assists. He narrowly outdueled Thunder center Steven Adams but not by much. Adams had 26 points and 14 rebounds (11 offensive). It was a fun heavyweight matchup between two of the league’s best centers.

4. Most nights, it’s clear that Jokic would rather pass than score. The opposite is true of Murray, who can score in bunches with his picture-perfect stroke. Murray’s not a one-dimensional player, though. He grabbed nine rebounds in Friday’s game. This one toward the end of the first half was particularly impressive. Most guys don’t jump back into the play after making that pass.

Murray is averaging 4.4 rebounds this season, a solid mark for a 6-foot-3 guard. He’s not afraid to mix it up. Toward the end of Friday’s game, Murray and Westbrook exchanged words after there was a dispute over positioning on a jump ball.

“I was standing in my spot,” Murray said. “He tried to step over me, and then he shoved me first. I mean, I guess they were losing or whatever. I don’t know. I was just standing in my spot.”

5. The Nuggets are playing with more of an edge than they used to. Remember a little more than a year ago when Westbrook shoulder checked Jokic to the ground and Denver didn’t say or do anything?

Jokic had some words for Westbrook this time. Coaches from both sides ran on to the floor to try and diffuse the situation.

“The thing about our team is we’re not going to back down from anybody,” Malone said. “By no means are we the Bad Boys … but I think we have developed a confidence, a toughness and a resiliency.”

6. Monte Morris sees the game a few steps ahead of everyone else. Take this stop-on-a-dime pull-up he made over Dennis Schroder for example.

“I knew in my head I was going to shoot the midrange before I took it,” Morris said. “If he’s down the floor, and I beat him, he’s going to try to play catchup. If I pull back, there’s no way he’s going to be able to contest it.”

Morris is playing chess; his opponents are playing checkers. He was rock solid versus the Thunder for what seemed like the millionth time this season. He sunk a pair of 3s, scored 14 points, handed out six assists, came up with two steals and committed zero turnovers. He has 114 assists and 19 turnovers on the season. Remember: He’s a 23-year-old playing NBA rotation minutes for the first time in his life.

“I just try to play two steps ahead of everybody,” Morris said. “That’s about it.”

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