At least for a night, with a new point guard directing traffic, the Nuggets played like their former selves.
In his first career start, Monte Morris didn’t stuff the box score, but he played steady, reliable basketball that let his teammates flourish. The Nuggets anticipated the Hawks would try to jump their offensive sets and reacted accordingly.
A free-flowing, read-and-react offense that yielded seven guys in double-figures, 34 assists and a resounding 138-93 win over Atlanta.
“We knew they were going to ruck up the game and shoot passing lanes, so we knew a lot of plays weren’t going to be able to really work,” Morris said.
As a result, Nuggets coach Michael Malone took the reins off and unleashed his offense.
“Tonight was I think the first time all season where I felt like we were the Nuggets of old, where we were flying around,” Malone said. “Gary (Harris) got two late passes at the rim, great ball movement, extra passes, generating wide open shots. I tried to make sure I was calling less plays and more offense where we could read and react to play off of each other.”
Malone had another reason for dialing back his play calling with both Morris and Jamal Murray.
“That’s hard to scout, that’s hard to defend because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Thursday’s offense, predicated on movement, spacing and sharing, found a perfect partner in Juan Hernangomez, who had a team-high 25 and flew around with his typical energy.
“Balling,” Morris said of Hernangomez. “I love to see when my teammates play good. It gets me so excited.”
Aside from Paul Millsap and Harris, who had 18 points each, Thursday’s offense unlocked Nikola Jokic and all of his capabilities. Jokic finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists – a typical line for the Nuggets’ best player. But more reassuring than any statistical benchmark was the fact that Jokic, instead of treating Thursday’s game as a contest where he needed to choose between scoring or facilitating, just reacted to what was in front of him.
“You have a great passing big man,” Malone said. “To utilize him, you have to screen, you have to cut and do so with purpose.”
Hernangomez could’ve capped off the sequence of the night after Jokic whipped a behind-the-back pass to him, but his 3-pointer didn’t land.
“Juancho should’ve made it,” Malik Beasley chimed in from the postgame locker room.
“Facts,” he said.
The fact that the Nuggets could joke about the miss was evidence of a lighter locker room. Riding a sour four-game losing streak, the Nuggets needed Thursday’s win heading into a daunting three-game road trip.
“That was a must-win in our eyes,” Murray said.
Murray’s benching. Malone said in the pregame he was comfortable with the previous starting lineup and declined to reveal any changes. That, in part, made Morris’ start in place of Murray so surprising.
But according to a source, Murray was late to a team shootaround on Thursday, which is what prompted the benching.
Malone called it a “small violation of team rules” and said Murray would be back in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game against New Orleans. The Nuggets downplayed it, and Murray played well, finishing with 14 points and 3-of-6 on 3-pointers. But Morris’ steady hand continues to force his way onto the court, and it’s not hard to envision him starting more in the future.
But beyond the infraction, as both young guards continue to develop, Malone said he wants to encourage them to improvise on offense.
“I have to continue to trust and let them play because that’s the only way that he and Jamal are going to get better,” he said. “Trusting those guys, trust is something we speak a lot about. I don’t want it to be a hollow word, something that’s up on the wall. I actually want to live it and allow our guys to run their team.”
Source: DenverPost | Mike Singer | November 16, 2016