By Daniel Paiz
The Denver Nuggets are fully aware how important every game is from here until the postseason, as they figuratively broke the Detroit Pistons’ engine 115-98. Detroit really never got going outside of Derrick Rose (20 points) and Christian Wood (20 points, 10 rebounds), the latter of which dealt with foul trouble throughout. Nuggets’ stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray both scored 16 points a piece, but the real star was Jerami Grant off the bench with a career-high 29 points in an impressively efficient 29 minutes.
Here’s how I kept tabs of who did what as I was watching a solid, well-rounded game from the Nuggets in front of their hometown Pepsi Center faithful.
Things start out close
The Pistons had an early 23-21 lead after rallying down from seven, but Denver closed out the first quarter rallying to secure a 29-23 lead. Both Rose and Murray start hot.
At 10:55 in the second quarter, Nuggets lead 31-26, with Murray at 9 points, and Rose at 7 points. It’s a battle between these two at this point and even their teammates kind of realize it. Jokic is not just slow getting started, he hasn’t really even touched the ball. Luckily the Nuggets seem to get it going offensively with Murray on the floor.
At 3:57 in the second, Detroit’s Wood hits 3 fouls, which is significant as he has 8 points and is the second leading Pistons scorer behind Rose, who has 13 points at this mark in the game. Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey challenged the call as he has few others scoring; the 3rd foul stands and Wood sits with his third.
A bit of separation begins
At the half, Jokic has 11, Murray has gone cold at 11 with those last two coming from free throws, and Grant is at 8 points. Rose and Wood have largely sat the second quarter, with Knight being at 6 points on the floor. Nuggets lead 59-46, with Denver getting better looks and Detroit being limited to one shot each possession and unnecessary turnovers.
Quarter number three at the 8:16 mark has Denver leading 63-50. Unfortunately Murray can’t buy a bucket and Nikola Jokic has 13 points. Pistons are still relying on Rose and Wood, as these two have half of Detroit’s 50 points (Rose 15, Wood 10).
At the end of 3, Wood has 13, Knight 14, and Rose leads all scorers with 20. Jerami Grant for Denver has 15, ahead of Jokic’s 13. Murray has stepped up his passing to almost have a double-double with 11 pts and 7 assists, figuring out his teammates have the hot hand while Murray seems to be cold.
This is the first quarter the Pistons have outscored Denver, 26-23. Denver leads by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, 82-72.
The separation fully unfolds
The fourth quarter belongs to Denver’s sixth man, as Grant has 19 points, Michael Porter Jr has 11 points and Murray sits at 13 points and 8 assists. Jokic has not played since the third quarter and frankly, there’s no need for him on the floor. Mason Plumlee is providing valuable hustle minutes getting rebounds and spreading the rock around the floor. For Detroit, Wood is at 15 points and 7 boards, while Rose also has gone cold and still has 20 points.
As the quarter goes on, Denver pulls away slowly yet steadily. The Pistons realize hopes of a comeback are dim at best and pull their starters with somewhere around four minutes to go. Denver does the same with putting in Dozier, Vonleh and a few others while leaving in Grant and Porter Jr.
Grant finishes with 29 points in an impressive 29 minutes, while Jokic and Murray both hit 16 pts and Porter Jr reaches 13 points in clean-up time in the fourth. Rose stays at 20, not really playing more than three or four minutes in the fourth; Wood hits his double-double for the night.
Nuggets win 115-98! A fully healthy Nuggets team is going to be tough to beat in the postseason, regardless of who draws Denver.