NUGGETS A BUCKET SHORT IN SE­COND LOSS OF SEA­SON

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Singer

» Nikola Jo­kic took a deep ex­hale, one long, frus­trated breath after a diff icult night at the off ice. Jo­kic’s lone shot of the game — a last-se­cond 3-pointer at the buzzer — was off the mark, and the Grit-n-Grind Griz­zlies held on to win 89-87 on Wed­nes­day night to snap the Nuggets’ f ive-game win­ning streak.

Now 9-2, the Nuggets missed their chance at ty­ing the best start after 11 games in fran­chise his­tory.

“We’re 9-1 go­ing into tonight, and our of­fense has been pretty good, putting up big num­bers,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I don’t know what it does to our of­fense (when Jo­kic is not aggressive). Ob­vi­ously, we’d like him to take more shots, but right now he’s not shoot­ing the ball, and we’ll have to fig­ure out why.”

After the Nuggets clawed back to tie it at 87 on the strength of a Ja­mal Mur­ray step-back jumper, Marc Ga­sol buried two free throws give the Griz­zlies the edge.

The Nuggets’ frus­tra­tion was pal­pa­ble on a night when they shot just 39 per­cent from the field and had 19 turnovers that led to 23 Griz­zlies points. Jo­kic fin­ished with four points, seven re­bounds and four as­sists while the rest of the starters largely strug­gled as well. Gary Har­ris shot just 6-for-16 for

20 points and Mur­ray, com­ing off his ca­reer-high 48 point out­ing, was just 6-of-21 for 15 points.

The Griz­zlies got 20 points each from rookie Jaren Jack­son Jr. and Ga­sol.

It took sev­eral quar­ters to man­i­fest, but Den­ver’s de­fen­sive prin­ci­ples even­tu­ally kicked in. The Nuggets, the se­cond-best de­fen­sive team in the NBA, held the Griz­zlies to 39 points in the se­cond half.

“My hope is that as the year goes on, our de­fense re­mains a con­stant,” Malone said. “It’s an an­chor to our team no mat­ter what’s go­ing on on of­fense.”

It was Wed­nes­day, but the of­fense was too cold to over­come.

The game was inch­ing away from the Nuggets in the third quar­ter after Kyle Anderson buried a 3pointer from the cor­ner to make it 59-51. But, in­fused by a bench out­fit that has rou­tinely pro­duced even when the rest of the of­fense hasn’t, the Nuggets reeled off a 7-0 run and even­tu­ally tied it at 61. Monte Mor­ris hit a run­ner, Juan Her­nan­gomez cleaned up a sec­ond­chance op­por­tu­nity and Trey Lyles buried a triple to even it up head­ing into the fourth quar­ter. The Nuggets’ bench outscored the Griz­zlies’ 41-26, in­clud­ing 10 from Ma­son Plum­lee.

“When we went to our bench in that se­cond half, those guys showed un­be­liev­able life, en­ergy, ef­fort,” Malone said.

The Nuggets had im­mense re­spect for a much-im­proved Griz­zlies team. With Mike Con­ley and Ga­sol healthy, along with Jack­son, the Griz­zlies are a team with le­git­i­mate play­off as­pi­ra­tions cen­tered around their sev­en­thrated de­fense.

“Marc Ga­sol, no dis­re­spect to him, has never been la­beled a great ath­lete, but he has been a de­fen­sive player of the year be­cause of his IQ , his in­tel­li­gence, his po­si­tion­ing,” Malone said. “Will Nikola ever be a de­fen­sive player of the year? I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past him. But I’ve seen huge growth in that area from Nikola Jo­kic in the last cou­ple of years. There’s def­i­nitely a com­par­i­son there.”

The Griz­zlies closed the first half on a 10-0 run to take a 50-47 lead. Jack­son was a ter­ror in the paint and on se­cond-chance points, ben­e­fit­ing from all the de­fen­sive at­ten­tion on Con­ley and Ga­sol. The Nuggets hung close de­spite shoot­ing just 39 per­cent from the field com­pared to the Griz­zles’ 54 per­cent.

On the other end, the Nuggets an­tic­i­pated the Griz­zlies’ paint cov­er­age but couldn’t take ad­van­tage through­out the first two quar­ters. They shot just 4-of-14 from 3point range as a team, while Har­ris knocked down three treys. Jo­kic, who bat­tled foul trou­ble and turnovers in the first half, didn’t take one shot at­tempt through­out the first two quar­ters de­spite ex­cel­lent early po­si­tion­ing.

Bran­don Dill, The Associated Press

Nuggets guard Ja­mal Mur­ray shoots against Mem­phis Griz­zlies cen­ter Marc Ga­sol in the first half Wed­nes­day night.

Bran­don Dill, The Associated Press

Mem­phis for­ward Jaren Jack­son Jr., drives against Nuggets for­ward Ma­son Plum­lee, cen­ter, and guard Ja­mal Mur­ray dur­ing the se­cond half Wed­nes­day night in Mem­phis, Tenn.

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