The set-up could have been ominous: the Toronto Raptors were in town, one the best teams in the NBA, playing some of the best defense in the NBA, and on a day’s rest after making the trip from Portland on Monday night.
None of it, however, mattered to the Nuggets.
They got right down to business early on and ran the Raptors right out of the Pepsi Center in a 129-111 victory on Wednesday night. It was their third in the last four games, evened their record at 4-4, and was as complete a performance as the Nuggets have put on the court this season.
“I would say it’s probably one of our more complete games,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
And it began with a Paul Millsap scoring avalanche.
The newest Nuggets forward had it rolling early, scoring outside and inside, accounting for 13 of the team’s first 18 points before the Raptors knew what hit them. Included in that were makes in all three of his 3-point attempts. He had space to shoot and didn’t waste it. By the time Raptors defenders closed in on him, he was already in a groove. Millsap ended up with a season-high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
“He got off to a great start, got us going offensively,” Malone said. “It was a concern against a very good defensive team, could we score against them? Paul, how efficient he was in the first quarter really got us off to a great start on the offensive end. …Great to see him find his offensive rhythm.”
Millsap was quickly joined by Jamal Murray, who easily had his best shooting day of the season, nailing 8-of-10 shots overall and 3-of-5 from the 3-point line to finish with 24 points. Nikola Jokic had a near triple-double with eight points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Nuggets never trailed in the game and led by as many as 36 points.
Defensively, they were energized. Stopping Toronto’s All-Star guards, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan is job No. 1 and the Nuggets carried out the game plan to perfection. DeRozan scored just 10 points – 13 under his season average – on 4-of-10 shooting. Lowry didn’t even get into double digits, finishing with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting as well. Nuggets starters outscored Raptors starters 76-52.
“We didn’t want to put DeRozan on the free throw line,” Jokić said. “We wanted to run (Serge) Ibaka off the 3-point line; we did that. … We kind of took away what we wanted to take away. We did a really good job with game-plan discipline.”
In all, it was a nice start to the Nuggets longest homestand of the season – six games over a span of 10 days, which continues with back-to-back games against Miami on Friday and Golden State on Saturday.
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.