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“There is no place like home.”
Nikola Jokić – A+
Nikola Jokić has seen it all before. All except Victor Wembanyama denying passes. The 2x MVP and the Nuggets faithful got their first look at the generational prospect Sunday night, and the timing was exceptional. Denver was sliding after a disaster on the road. They needed a get-right game. And with all due respect to young Wembanyama, the Spurs at home fits the bill. Despite the breathtaking reach and defensive brilliance—the rookie registered six steals and four blocks—Jokić dominated.
The two bigs weren’t each other’s primary matchup but occasionally clashed. Most notably, they lined up for the opening tip. Somehow, Jokić stole it. He’d go on to dominate the Spurs down low. Sixteen of his seventeen made field goals occurred in the paint. Poor Charles Bassey will have nightmares about this game.
The paint dominance was one layer of what Michael Malone deemed “Nuggets Basketball” as Denver re-discovered their form at home. They also registered 38 assists on 50 field goals as a team. Jokić finished with nine, one shy of a 39-point triple-double.
Michael Porter Jr. – A
Michael Porter Jr. was too passive in prior losses without Jamal Murray. Everyone could see it, and he knew it. He admitted as much after beating the Spurs Sunday night. His pre-determined approach was to be aggressive, and that yielded early success. Porter scored the first five points of the game for the Denver Nuggets—two jumpers, including a step-back three. He hit his third shot, too—another step-back three. He went to the line four times in the opening quarter when he led all scorers with twelve. He’d finish with 25 points on 14 shots.
Porter stayed aggressive and decisive. He shot confidently, drove confidently, and read the floor reasonably well. His lasting highlight is a beautiful finish through contact from Wembanyama:
After a poor start from three, Porter is heating up. He shot 4/9 from deep Sunday night and is now shooting 39% on the season.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – A-
Passwell-Pope. Pope’s been making some plays lately in Murray’s absence. He got in a bit of trouble with Wembanyama’s length but also had a couple of nifty passes to Jokić on the roll. He did a nice job with the kickout and reposting as well. He understood that Plan A was getting 15 the ball. When it was time to shoot, he was remarkably efficient.
Reggie Jackson – A-
Jackson got into some turnover trouble but lit it up from the field. He dropped 20 points on 70% shooting and rebounded nicely from the guard position. He scored half of those points in the third quarter when he and Jokić helped the Nuggets pull away.
Justin Holiday – B
If you didn’t notice Justin Holiday out there, that’s a good thing. He caught the spot start in Aaron Gordon’s place and did his best to blend in. He’s a complementary piece to that group. Malone lauded his trustworthiness after the game and called his fit seamless. Holiday allowed them to defend how they’d like, space the floor, and push MPJ to the power forward, where he’s often more effective.
Christian Braun – C+
CB struggled from the field but never lifted his foot from the pedal. The second unit heeded Malone’s call to turn up the heat and help themselves. Braun wasn’t crisp, but he did finish with five points, four rebounds, and four assists. That’s a nice reflection of his activity.
Julian Strawther – A–
Strawther put it all together back in Denver. He scored off a couple of Jokić feeds early and returned the favor, assisting Jokić twice out of the pick and roll. He also defended well, leaving the game with three steals to show for it.
The rookie has floated back down to earth after an otherworldly preseason. It was nice to see him flash that talent again Sunday night. This was one of the best games in his nascent career.
Peyton Watson – A-
Have you ever seen those clips of wild deer bursting into a downtown shop? They smash through the window, destroy the merchandise, and send people fleeing for cover. That’s how Peyton Watson hoops right now. That’s how Michael Malone wants him to hoop right now. His high motor and disruptive defense earned him the DPOG chain. The chain came with a challenge from his head coach:
“Can you bring the same energy and effort every night?”
DeAndre Jordan – A-
Nnaji logged one minute before Malone had seen enough. He later turned to his vet, who kindly obliged with six points and five rebounds in his first six minutes.