© 2024 ALLCITY Network Inc.
All rights reserved.
The message from the Denver Nuggets throughout the summer and offseason was they were going to play to their roster’s strengths. Coach Michael Malone and general manager Tim Connelly weren’t about to try and emulate the Golden State Warriors’ 3-point attack or any new NBA trend. They were essentially going to zig, while everyone else zagged.
Tonight, in the Nuggets 108-106 preseason victory over the Toronto Raptors, we saw a glimpse into what that zigging might look like. Denver started their twin-towers look; Nikola Jokic at the four and Jusuf Nurkic at the five, something they’ve talked about doing at length this offseason, and a lineup that strictly goes against the modern-NBA line of thinking.
In total, Jokic and Nurkic (unofficially) logged 18 minutes on the court together and were a +/- 0. The two started the game strong, helping Denver to a 31-27 first quarter advantage. Nurkic finished with a team-high 15 points on 4-9 shooting and was 7-7 from the line, while Jokic scored 12 points in 28 minutes, grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists.
The first quarter dominance from the “Jurkic” frontcourt was especially felt on the boards. The Nuggets jumped out to a 17-11 rebounding advantage largely due to Nurkic’s hulking interior presence. The Bosnian’s dominance in the paint was felt on the offensive glass to the tune of four early offensive rebounds, but Nurkic did miss a number of bunnies around the hoop, something he’s struggled with throughout his short career.
The pair’s dominance eventually wore off over the course of the second and third quarters as the Raptors started feeding Jonas Valanciunas who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds in just 19 minutes. Valanciunas continued to exploit the Nuggets frontcourt when Denver went to Kenneth Faried (five points, five rebounds), who came off the bench after starting 64 of the 67 games he played in last season.
After Valanciunas brought the Raptors back, Terrance Ross shifted into video game mode, scoring from all over the floor. Ross finished with a game-high 23 points on 8-12 shooting and shot 4-7 from three which included a potential four-point play to close the third quarter. In the utmost Ross fashion, he missed the free throw.
In the fourth quarter, the Raptors, led by undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet and sophomore Norman Powell continued Toronto’s comeback that nearly became complete. VanVleet and Powell had their way with a Denver lineup consisting of Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Robbie Hummel, Juan Hernangomez, and Jarnell Stokes. Will Barton subbed into the game with ten seconds left and subsequently bricked two free throws but a Powell buzzer-beating three was off at the buzzer.
For the Nuggets the story didn’t end with the Jurkic frontcourt. Barton came off the bench and brought the energy and shot-making ability he always provides and finished with 12 points on 4-11 shooting. Wilson Chandler played his first official game in close to a year and scored nine points, six of which came from 3-point land.
The rookie trio was led by Beasley who scored nine points on 4-4 shooting. Murray chipped in nine points as well, while Hernangomez finished with two points on 1-6 shooting.
Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta, Canada | Oct. 3, 2016 | Preseason game No. 1
STAR OF THE GAME FOR NUGGETS
Jusuf Nurkic was the star, maybe unexpectedly, for the Nuggets. His 15 points and ten rebounds overshadowed the presence he had in the paint throughout the 23 minutes he logged tonight. It was an important start to the preseason for Nurkic who needs all the momentum he can heading into a crucial third year in the league.
PLAYS OF THE GAME
Chandler straight down the runway with the slam.
Nurkic climbs the ladder, rejects Siakam
Pretty passing from Jokic and Nurkic to Barton
Murray in his office
Three of Beasley’s nine fourth-quarter points
Hernangomez has eyes in the back of his head
BY THE NUMBERS
The Jokic and Nurkic frontcourt gave the Nuggets offense a different feel tonight and it remains to be seen how Emmanuel Mudiay and Danilo Gallinari adapt to a different philosophy if this is indeed how Denver expects to play this season.
The three rookies, Murray, Hernangomez, and Beasley all got their feet wet tonight and can build off this experience. Murray struggled on defense, often lunging and reaching, but looked comfortable on the offensive end once he settled in. Hernangomez continued to show the aggressiveness and IQ he displayed at Summer League but his shot was not falling. Beasley probably had the best game of the three rookies and looked under control but a bit lost on defense as well.
Harris strained his groin in the second quarter on the play below and did not return.
The Nuggets will fly back to Denver for a couple days of practices before heading out to Los Angeles where they’ll take on the Lakers Friday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 9. Denver’s first home game of the preseason isn’t until Oct. 14 when they’ll host the Golden State Warriors.