The Denver Nuggets' bench came through in a big way after the team decided to rest a number of their veteran players for the final two games of the season. Both the backups that were forced into a starting role and the bench warmers called into extended action performed well in the Nuggets' 109-91 victory over the Mavericks in Dallas
Not even an appearance by Dallas Cowboys legend Tony Romo in the Dallas Mavericks starting lineup introductions could stop the fresh legs of the young Nuggets roster on Tuesday night. Romo joined the Mavericks during their pre-game warmups as well as on their bench in uniform throughout the game, but it was the contributions of a number of Denver's players that had spent most of their seasons on the Nuggets' bench that proved to be the difference in the game.
The Nuggets were led by Malik Beasley, seeing his first extended action in the NBA in his rookie year, and it was his 12 second quarter points, which already matched his career high, that helped the Nuggets open up a lead that they wouldn't relinquish for the rest of the night.
Beasley finished with 16 points on 50 percent shooting and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals for good measure. The game provided a glimpse of the future for the Nuggets backcourt with Gary Harris leading the team in scoring (20 points) and adding 8 points and 8 assists, and Jamal Murray, getting another start at point guard, notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists.
It wasn't just the youngsters getting into the act tonight either as both Darrell Arthur and Mike Miller saw their first action in quite a while and filled up the stat sheets themselves.
Arthur knocked down a couple of shots early on to get the Nuggets back into the game and finished with nine points, all on 3-point makes. Miller's impact started with playmaking as he picked up five first half assists and finished the game with six to go with his eight points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes.
Nikola Jokic (19 minutes) and Wilson Chandler(14) got a bit of a break but still managed to contribute to the win with Chandler's nine points and five assists and Jokic's 7 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in their limited action.
Mason Plumlee (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Juan Hernangomez (14 points, 6 rebounds) put up impressive numbers as well as it was truly a team win for the Nuggets in Dallas on Tuesday. The Mavs were unsurprisingly led by Dirk Nowitzki's 21 points and eight rebounds while Tony Romo was once again held out of a game by his coach (and owner at one point) in Dallas for one final time.
"The ball movement was unbelievable," said head coach Michael Malone, whose team had 31 assists on 41 made shots, "We had guys making plays for each other, which is always fun to watch."
"When we get out and run, and can attack before they get set, we're a very tough team to guard," continued Malone, referencing the fact that the Nuggets outpaced the Mavericks 20-14 in fast break points.
Wilson Chandler opened the scoring for the Nuggets almost two minutes into the game, but a Jamal Murray 3-pointer followed soon after to give the Nuggets a quick 5-2 lead. Both teams traded jump shots throughout most of the quarter, with the Mavericks converting on 44 percent of their field goals to just 37.5 percent for the Nuggets.
It was the energy and execution of the Nuggets bench that produced a 9-0 run and got them back into the game in the first period after falling behind 21-11 about halfway through the quarter. Arthur knocked down two 3-pointers during the run to lead Denver in scoring in the opening quarter along with Plumlee. Chandler and Murray also added five points apiece while Dallas was led by Nowitzki (seven points) and Nerlens Noel with six of his own.
The second quarter was the Beasley show and he got things going early in the quarter by hitting two free throws after getting fouled by Nowitzki on a dunk attempt and followed soon after with a dunk off of a nice pass by Gary Harris to cap a 7-0 Nuggets run. Beasley matched his career high of 12 points with more than six minutes left to play in the second quarter. While Beasley was the only Nugget in double figures in scoring, there were plenty of other contributions in the first half with Murray (5 assists), Miller (5) and Gary Harris (4) all providing a number of highlight-worthy assists leading to the Nuggets 57-44 halftime lead.
A beautiful pass by Jokic to Hernangomez for an easy dunk allowed the Nuggets to open up an 18 point lead early in the second half, but the Mavs were able to lock down their sloppy play and start hitting their jumpers to get back into the game. Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith all knocked down shots from distance in the quarter and allowed Dallas to close the gap to 83-75 going into 4th quarter.
Jokic was finally able to get going a little bit as he finished the third with seven points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.
It's unclear whether Romo would have even been allowed to play in the game, but it didn't stop some theatrics late in the game as the crowd roared when it looked like the Cowboys now-retired quarterback was getting ready to check-in.
Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban dragged Romo back to the end of the bench while laughing, but it will be interesting to see how the league responds to this reportedly unapproved show in Dallas.
The Nuggets close out the season against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.