Nikola Jokic gave a matter-of-fact instant analysis of Friday’s style of play between his Nuggets and Memphis.
“It was kind of an ugly game,” Jokic said. “Not many nice moves. A lot of fouls.”
But the Nuggets won’t nitpick the end result. Denver used stout defense to grind their way out of a three-game losing skid with an 87-78 win over the Grizzlies at the Pepsi Center.
“It’s very key to show us, hey, we don’t have to score 100-and-whatever points to win games,” said forward Kenneth Faried, who finished with four points and six rebounds. “We can go out there and grind it out and figure it out.”
Memphis’ point total was the fewest Denver has allowed this season. Just 31 came after intermission, when the Nuggets (22-20) flipped a 15-point first-half deficit into a double-digit fourth-quarter lead. In the process, Denver held Memphis leading scorer Tyreke Evans to 5-of-13 from the floor for 13 points, while all-star big man Marc Gasol needed 19 shots to reach 22 points.
“These are the kind of games that I like,” coach Michael Malone said.
BOX SCORE: Nuggets 87, Grizzlies 78
That defensive effort allowed the Nuggets to win while playing at Memphis plodding pace. And to overcome an offensive outing in which they shot 38.6 percent and 7-of-22 from 3-point distance without leading scorer Gary Harris, who missed the game while tending to personal family matters.
Denver closed a 15-point gap with a 22-12 run in the second quarter, then surged ahead for good with 15-7 spurt to begin the third. Nikola Jokic, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, tied the game at 54 with a finish inside over Gasol at the 5:28 mark of the third quarter, then gave Denver the lead for good when he sank two free throws on the Nuggets’ next possession.
That lead only grew for Denver in the final quarter, with an alley-oop slam from Malik Beasley to Mason Plumlee making the score 79-66 with 6:15 to play. Memphis never got closer than eight points after that.
“If you’re playing that hard, the Basketball Gods are gonna be good to you eventually,” said Will Barton, who started at shooting guard in place of Harris and totaled 17 points and five rebounds. “I felt like we stayed with it.”
Trey Lyles led a strong bench effort with 16 points and five rebounds. Malone also gave significant time to Faried, Beasley (nine points in 24 minutes) and Richard Jefferson (four points, four rebounds in 19 minutes).
Barton said after Wednesday’s stunning home loss to Atlanta that his team needed to create energy from getting stops, rather than only gaining that fuel when the offense is rolling. That lack of intensity was apparent during the Nuggets’ 2-4 stretch entering Friday, which included troubling losses to a Philadelphia team playing without young star Joel Embiid and on the road against a Sacramento squad playing without leading scorer Zach Randolph.
Friday’s win was the first step in creating that mentality, which will immediately be put to the test again when they play at San Antonio Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back set.
Jokic knows the win was ugly. But the Nuggets ground their way out of a three-game losing skid.
“We’re gonna take it,” Jokic said. “A win is a win.”