Bench provides a boost
Nuggets’ new-look second unit a key in victory over Pelicans
The Nuggets wrested control of Tuesday’s game faster than Nikola Jokic’s passes soar over unsuspecting opponents.
What they discovered may have been a significant find ahead of next week’s trade deadline.
Denver had a comfortable 9384 margin over the Pelicans at the start of the fourth quarter, and it took just 37 seconds for that lead to balloon to 13, at which point New Orleans called a timeout. Kentavious Caldwell-pope ignited the first fastbreak, which ended in a transition dunk from rookie Christian Braun. On the ensuing possession, Bruce Brown ripped the ball form Pelicans reserve guard Jose Alvarado and took off for another uncontested dunk.
At that moment, the Nuggets found a recipe for potentially something sustainable.
The lineup of Brown, Braun, Caldwell-pope, Jeff Green and Aaron Gordon gave the Nuggets size, speed, athleticism and a formula to score points off the bench.
“That lineup is really versatile defensively (because) you can switch everything,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after his team hung on, 122-113, improving their first-place record to 35-16.
Neither Zeke Nnaji nor Bones Hyland, who’d both played in the first half, got off the bench for the final two quarters.
On four consecutive occasions, the Nuggets scored while taking advantage of New Orleans’ compromised defense. After the two dunks, Brown stepped confidently into a 3-pointer once Alvarado gambled — and missed — on a steal attempt. Less than a minute later, the Nuggets corralled a defensive rebound, and again, Green converted on the break. For a unit that has struggled to consistently score, there was tangible evidence that it could be done as a result of their defense.
The Nuggets scored 26 fastbreak points, underscoring their status as the fourth-ranked transition team in the NBA. Their offense, predicated on Jokic’s creativity, issued 33 assists. Their snipers — Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Caldwell-pope — combined for 13 of the team’s 16 3-pointers. The only glaring issue this season has been whether Denver’s second unit can extend, maintain or even hold leads.
In the second quarter, a 7-2 Pelicans run against Denver’s second unit opened up a 42-33 lead. It informed Malone’s decision to shorten the bench in the second half.
After the game, Malone was