Without starters Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Gary Harris, the Denver Nuggets fell 125-105 to the Miami Heat in their first seeding game.
Missing three starters, it’s unsurprising that the Denver Nuggets struggled to get out of the gate early, allowing Miami to go on a 12-2 run in the first quarter before slowly regaining their footing. Fortunately, the Nuggets were able to rally back behind Nikola Jokic’s nine first quarter points and trailed by just two points (28-26) at the end of the first period.
For the most part, the second quarter was a game of tug of war. There were five lead changes and neither team could take more than a 7-point lead. However, the Nuggets scored 14 points in the final 3:19 of the half and headed into the break with a 57-56 lead.
Jokic, much more aggressive than he had been in the scrimmages, had a game-high 14 points and five rebounds at halftime.
The third quarter mirrored the second quarter in that the game was back-and-forth. It was impossible not to think about the old adage that basketball is a game of runs.
After a 7-2 start from the Nuggets, Miami scored eight straight points to take a 65-64 lead with 8:21 remaining. However, sloppy defensive rotations led to Denver losing control of the game at the tail end of the third quarter, as Miami took a 15-point lead with 1:50 remaining. Denver trailed 94-79 at the end of three.
The lead proved to be insurmountable, in large part because the Nuggets defense was still struggling. They couldn’t stop the bleeding in the fourth, as Miami scored 10 of the quarter’s first 14 points.
Finding themselves down 20 with about four minutes remaining, Denver took out their starters. The Nuggets never pulled back within 20 points and they lost the game 125-105.
There were some positives though, as forward Jerami Grant was extremely productive off the Nuggets’ bench. Scoring from all three levels, Grant poured in 19 points on 50.0% shooting from the field.
Jokic also finished the game with 19 points, adding 7 rebounds and 6 assist for good measure. Unfortunately for Denver, the play of Grant and Jokic weren’t enough, as the Heat’s Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo both scored 22 points in the contest.
The trio who played in place of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton had solid performances.
Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. would earn his second career start on Saturday, supplanting Barton at small forward. Though he would play fewer minutes than any other starter (24 minutes), he scored 11 points and added 3 assists. Having shot 42.2% from 3-point range prior to the hiatus, Porter went just 2-8 from 3 against Miami.
Starting in place of shooting guard Harris, defensive specialist Torrey Craig notched 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He was the most efficient perimeter player for Denver, shooting 57.1% from the field and 40.0% from 3.
Meanwhile, Monte Morris — who didn’t play in the Nuggets’ three scrimmages — got the start at point guard in place of Murray. Getting to the free-throw line a team-high 8 times, Morris finished the game with 13 points and 5 assists.
The Nuggets’ next game is Monday (Aug. 3) as they take on Chris Paul and the Oklahoma City Thunder.