Return of the Sap
Back from a 3 month injury layoff the Denver Nuggets All-Star forward emotional return to action is spoiled by the Boban
The Denver Nuggets All-Star free agent acquisition Paul Millsap returned to the lineup last night after a 3 month absence with a torn ligament in his left wrist. The Nuggets elected to stick with their starting line up of Jokic, Chandler, Harris, Barton, and Murray that has been hot lately, going 7–3 over their last 10 before the 122–120 loss to the Clippers.
Millsap was reportedly brought to tears upon learning of his impending return. The fans in Denver were not quite on the same emotional plane. When he entered the game with 5:57 left in the first quarter, half the crowd cheered while the other half wondered if excitement was worth ruining their high or the Nuggets offense. Statistics should be kept on casual fans asking ‘who’s that guy’ and the defeated basketball nerd behind them sighing ‘we signed him in the offseason…’
Millsap’s first possession was a turn around elbow jumper that he sent awkwardly towards the rim, after that he settled in going 3 for 6 in the first half (without counting his end of the quarter heave). He was instrumental in keeping the potent Clipper backcourt bench duo of Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic from finding traction. He came up with two great blocks and a steal that led to him having a game high plus/minus of +12 going into the half.
Millsap was subbed out for Trey Lyles to start the 2nd, seemingly due to the heightened emotion and Denver altitude because he stayed on the court through the 3rd to the 4th. Lyles is oozing with potential but will probably be the odd man out in a deep frontcourt rotation of Millsap, Jokic, Plumlee, and Wilson Chandler solely being a stretch 4 at this point. Lyles has the potential to be a monster small ball 5 if he puts it all together, oversized small forwards play the center position more effectively than bigger power forwards since they have the athleticism to chase shooters off the line and timely return to the paint for rim protection. Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and PJ Tucker are examples of this where Ryan Anderson, Jabari Parker, and Omri Casspi would be examples of the latter.
Millsap returned halfway through the second quarter, continued where he left off by collecting a defensive board and launched a pass ahead to a streaking(loose term) WIlson Chandler for a transition dunk. His activity and instincts on the defensive side along with Gary Harris make the Nuggets appear competent on that end. Still, backup Clipper bigs Boban Marjanovic and Montrezl Harrell swung the game against the Nuggets prized front court. In their defense, the Clippers looked unguardable for stretches during the 4th, Harrell played like a man possessed and Boban was his historically great effective self. Their own defensive limitations allowed Jamal Murray to attack easily and the Nuggets to remain in the game.
Millsap had less of an effect on the game in his remaining action before being subbed out for Will Barton with 7 minutes left to go. He finished with a -8 plus/minus and the interior is where the game begun to tip in the Clippers favor. Given it’s first game, it can be chalked up to fatigue but leads to the question: Can you build a championship team with Jokic on your defensive backline? He’ll improve his footwork and defensive rhythm but his ceiling is limited, Doc was comfortable sticking with his bench to outscore the Nuggets down the stretch.
Jokic has fully asserted his dominant role on the offensive end with his eye popping numbers from the center position, his passing and shooting open up everything for the streaky guards. Per basketball-reference.com over his last ten Jokic has averages a near triple double with 22 ppg, 11 boards, 9(!) dimes, on 55% shooting and 56% from behind the arc! He has the low post moves to be effective inside but his shooting developed faster than expected. He should lean into that. This should allow Millsap to fall into a tertiary offensive role along with Barton and Gary Harris, with the majority of the focus revolving around Jokic-Murray actions.
The young duo of Harris and Murray are going to be in the best backcourt in the league discussion if they continue ascending, Murray’s scoring kept them close until Harris hit a fuck you three pointer against good defense by Austin Rivers to bring the Nuggets within striking distance with 14 seconds remaining. Austin missed a free throw to make the game scary for the Clips in the closing frame but made the game winning steal against an ill fated Jamal Murray desperation drive. End of the day, Boban stole the show.