Denver drops Detroit 104-101
The first order of business was figuring out a strategy against, the biggest, baddest inside force in the NBA -- Detroit behemoth Andre Drummond.
The second order of business was to turn neutralizing Drummond into a victory.
The Nuggets checked off both boxes.
Their 104-101 victory over the Pistons on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center took awhile to take shape, but when it did, the Nuggets thrived. And then they made defensive plays necessary at the end of the game to seal it.
To get to the end, they simply small-balled the 6-foot-11, 280pound Drummond out of the game.
Foul trouble did the trick early on. Drummond played two minutes before picking up two fouls. Still, early in his absence, Detroit continued to play like a well-oiled machine. The Pistons had 22 of their first 41 points in the paint, largely without Drummond. They dominated the boards early, 24-9, also without Drummond on the court.
So there was considerable work to do for the Nuggets.
The first course of action was getting Drummond away from the basket, making him guard Nuggets rookie center Nikola Jokic, who took — and made — jump shots to make it happen. It was part of a big third quarter.
That third quarter was one of the best the Nuggets have put together this season, and it began with the starters. Emmanuel Mudiay made his first five shots of the third, and he and Jokic combined to score 19 of the Nuggets’ first 26 points in the period.
Guard Gary Harris got in the act, too, making all three of his shots en route to seven points in the third. The Nuggets, who trailed 54-45 at halftime, hit the Pistons with a 20-8 start in third, outscored the Pistons 39-20 overall and turned that deficit into a 10-point lead going into the fourth.
But the reserves couldn’t hold it.
It took the Pistons 4 ½ minutes to erase the entire lead, and they outscore the Nuggets 18-5 before coach Michael Malone was forced to put starters back in the gamea little earlier than normal. The Pistons’ run became 20-5 before the Nuggets had four starters back in, and then Jokic’s insertion into the game with just under seven minutes meant all five were back — but with a lot of time to burn to get to the finish line.
Aron Baynes hit a layup with 48.3 seconds to play to put the Pistons up 101-100.
But the Nuggets weren’t done. On the next possession, Danilo Gallinari got the ball, faced up Pistons defender Marcus Morris and hit a step-back jumper with 23.8 seconds to play to put the Nuggets up 102-101. The Nuggets got a Harris steal and then a Jokic blocked shot to preserve the lead— and the victory.
Gallinari led the Nuggets with 30 points. Mudiay had one of his best games of the season, scoring 18 points, adding four assists and four rebounds. They were two of four Nuggets in double figures.
Nuggets guard Randy Foye gets his shot blocked by Detroit Pistons center Aron Baynes on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center. David Zalubowski, The Associated Press