Pistons stun Nuggets to snap seven-game losing streak
NBA 

The Nuggets’ season of giving began Tuesday night when they gift-wrapped a dispiriting win to the reeling Pistons.

Down 13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Nuggets clawed all the way back to within one possession numerous times before Detroit finally finished them off. Despite missing Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, the Pistons stunned the Nuggets with a 110-108 win at Ball Arena.

After Jamal Murray sunk the first of two free throws to draw within two points, Aaron Gordon missed the mid-range look at the buzzer that would’ve tied the game and sent it to overtime.

“I got a good look,” said Gordon, who admitted the time off had disrupted their offensive rhythm. “I think I just faded away a little too much.”

But Denver only had itself to blame, with 18 turnovers that yielded 26 Piston points. It didn’t matter that Nikola Jokic, Murray and Gordon had all returned from illness. Denver was sloppy in its execution, and the Pistons, who’d lost seven straight games, made them pay. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 22 points, and Detroit got 53 points from its bench.

“Offensively, it was a horror show,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Jokic had 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, but Murray’s 3-of-12 shooting night kept the offense from erupting. It’s possible he was still feeling the impact of his recent COVID case. Malone said he expected his returning players to struggle, and he only found out less than an hour before the game that they’d even be available.

The Nuggets fell to 10-7 with a back-to-back at Oklahoma City on deck Wednesday.

Though Bones Hyland played, he didn’t finish the game due to illness. It was one more setback after the Nuggets scrapped for arguably their best win of the season on Sunday at Dallas.

Defensively, Denver showed out in the third quarter. Michael Porter Jr. registered two quick blocks that bled into the offense, and Murray, Bruce Brown and Gordon each stole the ball on various possessions. Davon Reed dove along the baseline to save another, but Detroit kept it close by living at the rim and benefitting from their second unit.

It didn’t help when Porter committed a careless turnover on an entry pass to Jokic, or when Murray turned it over to kickstart a Pistons fastbreak. As a result, the Nuggets couldn’t get any separation and went into the fourth trailing 83-81.

Given how many guys entered Tuesday’s contest on the injury report, Malone could credibly claim he didn’t know who’d be available once the game finally tipped off.

But as Jokic and Murray went through their typical pre-game shooting routines, it became clearer that at least part of Denver’s roster was on the mend. Hyland, who was questionable for the day with an illness, suited up, too. Others, including Ish Smith (calf) and Peyton Watson (non-COVID illness) were unavailable.

“Right now, we’re in the middle of it,” Malone said before the game. Having played the fewest home games in the NBA entering the contest, Malone also cited Denver’s outlandish travel schedule which could’ve contributed to the rampant viruses going through the team.

Despite all that, perhaps his biggest concern was approaching the Pistons with a healthy mindset rather than assuming they wouldn’t compete.

Detroit played Denver hard in the first half and even took a 58-57 lead into halftime. Their bench, with a 23-13 advantage over the first two quarters, was the difference.

But edging closer to full strength, the Nuggets’ typical starters imposed themselves. Jokic had 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the first half. He even drew a charge in the second quarter to help stymie Detroit’s momentum, but it was his vision that, once again, propelled Denver’s offense. On more than one occasion, he dropped off smooth dimes to waiting dunkers, who finished the plays with ease.

Gordon was one of the biggest beneficiaries. All 12 first-half points came within feet of the basket. He planted himself inside and feasted on uncontested dunks.

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