Maybe not, but the intensity on display Wednesday was certainly something different from what we’ve seen in the summer league so far. The Nuggets defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 87-82 in their first “playoff” game in Las Vegas, advancing to the round of 16 in the tournament with their first win in four tries.
The game was marked by physical play and tighter rotations by both coaches. There’s no doubt guys were trying to win and coaches had a little less patience for the evaluation process than they did in the earlier part of summer league.
Jordan Hamilton returned to the team after taking a leave of absence to attend a funeral in Los Angeles. He came out firing on all cylinders, setting the tone early with 18 first quarter points. From then on the Nuggets nursed their lead while fending off Pelicans runs until a competitive fourth quarter in which the Nuggets pulled out the victory behind timely scoring from the sophomore contingent of Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier.
“We wanted to come out really aggressive and set the tone early, and obviously Jordan Hamilton shot the basketball and played with great confidence. He set the tone for us and led by example — we needed that” said Melvin Hunt, who assumed most of the coaching duties for Wednesday’s game.
“We lost three in a row. Our mindset was just to win, regardless of anything else” said starting point guard CJ Harris, who hit all three of his shots and was instrumental in finally getting the Nuggets some offense inside the paint.
When Darius Johnson-Odom was asked what was different about Wednesday’s mindset, he replied “We just wanted to win. It’s the start of a new day with the tournament and we needed a win. We got us one and now we just wanna keep going.”
The other big story of the game was the lights-out perimeter shooting of Quincy Miller. The 6-10 combo forward was on fire, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from deep and delivering the timeliest makes of the night. The Nuggets looked to Quincy when they needed big fourth quarter buckets and he showed an ability to hit big-time shots under pressure.
Erick Green added 14 points off the bench, shaking off a lot of his earlier struggles and looking much more confident and composed in a secondary scorer’s role.
As a result of the win, Denver moves on to the next round of the tournament where they will face the #6 seed Toronto Raptors on Thursday at 4:00pm MST. It will be the Nuggets fourth game in as many nights. As the Nuggets look to advance in the tournament tomorrow here’s a sampling of Nuggets news and notes from around the gym at summer league.
CJ Harris Q&A
I talked to CJ Harris after his solid performance as the starting point guard, and the rookie told me he’s making the transition to more of a pure point guard role in the NBA. Here’s what we covered in the short Q&A session.
Q: For people that haven’t seen you play before, describe your game
A: I do a little bit of everything. Coming out of college, I was strictly a shooter. That’s probably my biggest strength. But throughout the summer I’ve learned to play the point guard position, find open guys and take shots when I’m open.
Q: Why do you think the offense struggled so much in the first three games?
A: Yeah, it was tough getting our chemistry. First time we’ve all been together and it took us a while to gel. We did a great job sharing the ball today and it paid off.
Q: Do you think you could be a 40% three-point shooter in the NBA?
A: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s the definite strength of my game. I haven’t gotten too many three-point looks out here yet, but I’m thinking I’ve made all of them so far.
Q: What’s the secret to being efficient shooting the ball? Is it just taking good shots?
A: That and being confident. I think confidence is really big in shooting. I definitely have a lot of confidence in my shot.
Q: What have the coaches been stressing in terms of concepts and the system they want?
A: Defense and being really agressive. We want to get stops and immediately push. Setting up the plays comes secondary. That’s what they’ve been harping on.
Q: When they do call plays, what do they want you to run?
A: It’s a little bit of pick and rolls. We’ve also got Jordan, Evan coming off down screens. We’ve got Q picking and popping, stuff like that. Just utilizing everybody’s strengths.
Melvin Hunt on Quincy Miller’s development
Talking to coach Melvin Hunt after the game, I asked if Quincy’s summer league success as a stretch four meant the Nuggets would look for him to play that role in the NBA. Hunt said the Nuggets are still in an evaluation process in terms of what he can do and that they’ve always viewed him as a guy who will play multiple positions.
“Quincy’s a basketball player, a new-age basketball player” said Hunt. “He’s long, athletic, can play multiple positions and gives us multiple skills. He’s just a new-age basketball player.”
When asked about his development from last summer to this one, coach Hunt said “He’s gotta continue to keep showing us different things. One thing coach Shaw has assessed since he’s been here is that we’re gonna make mistakes, so how about we make new mistakes? We want to see growth and development out of all our guys. With Quincy, we don’t want to see him making the same mistakes he was in the beginning of the tournament and [repeating those] towards the end of the tournament. We want him to make new ones. This is just the summer league.”