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Before the Nuggets dismantled Ty Lawson and the Rockets, 105-85, Denver head coach Michael Malone had the following to say about facing Houston on opening night in enemy territory.
“We know what Ty is going to try to do, from jump-street, he’s going to try to send a very loud message and good for him,” said Malone. “We’re going to try to send a message as well: We feel we have a hell of a player in Emmanuel.”
That message was delivered by Malone and Mudiay to the tune of 17 points and 9 assists for Denver’s budding talent.
What a game.
The Nuggets came into Houston and not only stole a game, but did so in controlled blowout fashion. The Nuggets lead the game from wire to wire. Every time the Rockets gained any semblance of momentum, Malone would call a timeout, pull the guys in for a chat and the team would respond by stopping the bleeding and increasing their lead. Hopefully this game put the Nuggets on the map a little bit, since Mudiay essentially outplayed Lawson. One thing is for sure, this team is night and day different from the Brian Shaw era (shudder) and has made a statement to the rest of the league.
First Quarter – Starters: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Joffrey Lauvergne
The first play of the season could not be a more welcome sight for Nuggets fans and actually epitomized the theme of the Nuggets offseason: hope. For years fans have hoped that Faried would show improvement on the defensive end and it seems Malone was finally able to tap into that. Now I’ve never been the biggest Faried fan but I gotta say, I absolutely love what I’ve been seeing. The Manimal starts off the 2014-2015 season by sending the Rockets first shot into the stands:
The Nuggets rocketed off with a 12-1 run and never looked back. Mudiay got his work started quickly as he dished out three quick assists in the first four minutes of game-play. In just the first minutes of his NBA career he already looks routine driving and dishing:
The rookie was running Denver’s offense like he’d been doing it for years. Mudiay looked to make a statement and once again proved that he’ll punish defenses for leaving him open from beyond the arc:
Malone lets the starters run as Mudiay and Lauvergne don’t get subbed out until 3:30 left in the first. Nelson came in and actually looked more sloppy than the rookie as the Rockets trimmed the lead from 10 to just 6 before the end of the quarter. I said in my preview that Clint Capela would give the Nuggets trouble with his size, length and athleticism and he did as he bothered virtually every shot that came near the paint.
End of first: Nuggets 27, Rockets 21
Second Quarter – Starters: Jameer Nelson, Randy Foye, Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Darrell Arthur
A curious line-up to say the least… Although Mudiay picked up two more quick assists to Arthur (one of them for a three-point shot), the line-up was not very effective as Will Barton was replaced with a big in Nikola Jokic just three minutes into the quarter. Still playing a trio of Nelson, Mudiay and Foye, the Nuggets allow the Rockets back to within four before Mike Malone subs his starters back in. What a crazy experiment.
If there was a flaw in Mudiay’s game tonight it was trying to do too much, a problem I honestly think is good to have. You always want your rookies testing the waters and seeing what they can and can’t get away with in this league and Mudiay learned plenty with his 11 turnovers tonight. He also took some questionable shots, but shot selection is something that all young players must work to improve.
Still, the rookie was effective overall from beyond the arc (3-5 for the night) and shots like those keep the defense on their toes… especially after they see it go in:
I love the fact that Mudiay is already more aggressive with his shot than Lawson is currently, despite being labeled a worse shooter. At just 19 years-of-age Mudiay has already grasped what the 27-year-old NBA vet Lawson never could as Ty looked like his usual passive self tonight passing up multiple open shots.
The Nuggets build up a little momentum before James Harden comes and knocks down back to back threes.
End of second: Nuggets 53, Rockets 49
Third Quarter – Starters: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Joffrey Lauvergne
This quarter was an absolute highlight factory as the Nuggets were firing on all cylinders. Gallinari started the Nuggets off with a huge dunk to jump start the momentum:
Mudiay continued to build on his strong performance as he showed off his finishing ability, hitting a tough left-handed layup in traffic and impressing even the Rockets announcers as you can hear here:
The Nuggets were locking the Rockets down and turning those stops into baskets. Textbook Malone basketball as we’re getting accustomed to seeing. Many wondered if the seemingly overnight defensive improvement would sustain into the regular season and fans are finally getting regular season evidence that the transformation is for real. People across Nuggets Nation are pinching themselves wondering if they’re dreaming: are the Nuggets actually a good defensive team?
The Nuggets gain a ton of momentum and showed no signs of slowing down as they pull ahead for a 13-point lead.
End of third: Nuggets 76, Rockets 63
Fourth Quarter – Starters: Jameer Nelson, Randy Foye, Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Darrell Arthur
The whacky starting line-up was back again but this time had success solely due to Mudiay putting on an absolute clinic as he hits three buckets and dishes a dime in four straight possessions. The team was legitimately clearing out space to let the rookie go to work. I keep having to remind myself that he’s just 19.
This kid closed the game out like an absolute veteran, milking the clock before he makes his move. Never did the game feel out of control and that spoke volumes about what makes Mudiay so special: the Nuggets can already trust him to lead this team. I was honestly a little surprised to see 11 turnovers just because of how well he controlled everything. Just imagine what the score would’ve been had he taken care of the ball a little better.
Nuggets continued to lock it down on the defensive end and closed the game out expertly as the lead ballooned even further. The entire team seemed to be embracing the new-found defensive identity that Malone has instilled into the organization.
Final: Nuggets 105, Rockets 85.
Nuggets came in and blew the Rockets out of their own house by 20 points.
Toyota Center, Houston, TX | Oct. 23rd | Regular Season Game 1 (1-0)
CO-STARS OF THE GAME
Gallinari lead all scorers as he poured in 23 points on 7-15 shooting (3-5 from beyond the arc). He also added 8 rebounds and 3 blocks as he carried his momentum all the way from last year, through EuroBasket, to now. This may not be just a hot streak, this may just be the new Gallo.
Emmanuel Mudiay continued to show that he’s legit as he sustains success against the NBA’s elite. His 17 points and 9 assists were impressive for a debut and he became just the fifth player to combine for that many points and assists in his debut since 1985. He also had the most assists ever in a Nuggets debut. The future is bright folks.
PLAYS OF THE GAME
Gallinari putting a cap on the game as he drains a 3-pointer from the parking lot at the end of the shot clock.
Mudiay teasing us with what’s to come as he goes for a spot on SportsCenter Top 10
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
The third quarter was definitely the turning point as the Rockets were looking competitive until the Nuggets extended the lead to 13 points.
BY THE NUMBERS
Faried’s numbers jump out as he put up 18 points on 8-10 shooting and nine rebounds, great efficiency from the Manimal to go along with his much improved defense. Looking forward to a great year for The Manimal.
Joffrey was his usual productive self going 4-5 from the field and 1-1 from three to go along with 7 boards. Solid and serviceable, the epitome of Lauvergne.
Harris didn’t have much of a scoring impact, but played phenomenal defense on James Harden holding him to a horrid 6-21 shooting and 2-12 from three for just 22 points. Awesome defensive job from the sophomore.
The Nuggets start the 2015-16 regular season undefeated as they stun the Houston Rockets. This victory should theoretically garner some national attention to the team and has definitely put Mudiay on the Rookie of the Year watch. Nuggets fans everywhere are buzzing from what could be called the perfect start to the season and for good reason. I stand firm on my prediction that the Nuggets will open eyes across the nation this season and even threaten for a playoff spot in the West while many write the team off as bottom feeders. Fans who have been paying close attention, however, can see that something special is brewing in Denver and they should be ecstatic.
The Denver Nuggets fly back to Denver tonight and face the Minnesota Timberwolves and their pair of number one overall picks in the Pepsi Center on Friday, Oct. 30th. Tip-off is at 7:00 PM MDT.