Will Barton got free behind the 3-point line, but clanked the potential game-tying long ball with 25 seconds to play. That came after Jamal Murray missed two layups in less than a minute of game time. And after Nikola Jokic whiffed twice from close range with fewer than two minutes remaining.
An uncharacteristically clunky offensive performance in the second half ultimately doomed the Nuggets in a 107-102 loss to Philadelphia Saturday night at Pepsi Center.
“We just kind of self-imploded,” said starting big man Mason Plumlee, who totaled one point on 0-of-6 shooting. “We missed a lot of easy ones, and that kind of determined the game.”
The Nuggets (19-17) botched a key opportunity to complete their second consecutive winning month, a feat they did not accomplish last season until March. The 76ers (16-19) were playing without dazzling young big man Joel Embiid, and entered Saturday 1-6 in contests without their oft-injured star.
Denver coach Michael Malone admitted he “just did not have a good feeling the whole day,” wondering if his players would suddenly overlook the shorthanded 76ers. After the game, though, Malone was adamant that overconfidence was not a factor in Saturday’s loss.
The coach did acknowledge that fatigue probably was. The defeat wrapped a brutal December for Denver featuring 10 road games. The Nuggets also played the entire month without all-star forward Paul Millsap and seven games without Jokic, a contender to earn all-star honors this season.
There was a stark difference between the first and second halves for a Nuggets team that entered Saturday ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in both scoring offense and field-goal percentage.
Denver shot 52.2 percent before intermission and 26.8 percent after the break, yielding their season-low for second-half points scored at home this season (41). Murray, who scored 18 of his 31 points in the first half, started 8-for-12 from the floor but missed eight of his 11 attempts after that. An assertive dunk by Gary Harris (17 points) at the 8:03 mark in the third quarter ignited the Nuggets’ bench during their 11-0 run to start the period but represented the last time he’d score. Barton went 5-of-15 from the floor and scored two of his 14 points in the second half. Jokic notched a double-double (19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) but made five of his 14 attempts.
“That was probably the hardest struggle we’ve had offensively all year,” Murray said. “And it wasn’t really their defense. It was more just us missing open looks.”
Philadelphia, meanwhile, utilized an offense that thrives on passing and off-ball movement to get buckets from normal contributors JJ Redick (18 points, 8-of-15 shooting) and Robert Covington (15 points, 10 rebounds). Dario Saric, a matchup Malone said he was concerned about entering the game, led the 76ers with 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Rookie of the Year contender Ben Simmmons had the most balanced of balanced lines, finishing with six points, six rebounds and six assists.
Yet Jerryd Bayless, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half, became the unlikely sparkplug that suddenly sent Denver into catch-up mode after the Nuggets’ initial third-quarter spurt. Bayless scored six consecutive points — highlighted by an alley-oop layup — during Philadelphia’s 25-4 run to seize the lead. Then he racked up eight straight to begin the fourth, including a 3-pointer that left him hollering while jogging to the bench after an exacerbated Malone called timeout.
“They created separation for him,” Malone said of Bayless. “They set good screens and he came off (of them) … it’s like anything — when you see that ball go through the net, you get a little bit more confidence. He stepped up and made the plays, so give him credit.”
Yet the Nuggets still had chances down the stretch. Two Jokic free throws cut the 76ers’ lead to 103-100 with 1:01 to play, before Barton’s missed 3-point shot at the 25-second mark. Then after Murray nailed a pair of foul shots, Covington got free for a breakaway dunk to clinch the victory.
And thus, Denver completed 2017 with an uncharacteristically clunky offensive performance in the second half.
The good news for the Nuggets? They next have three days off before hosting lowly Phoenix on Wednesday.
“We’re almost halfway through the season. We have some guys that are playing heavy minutes,” Malone said “ … Hopefully we can get our bodies and our minds right and start the new year on a high note.”
Published at Sun, 31 Dec 2017 04:36:30 +0000