Friday night’s first quarter, again, was not the Nuggets’ finest display of professional basketball.
But the 12 minutes after halftime, again, were when Denver turned the game around in a plodding 87-78 victory over Memphis at the Pepsi Center.
The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Nuggets (22-20), who also improved to 15-5 at home. Denver next plays at San Antonio on Saturday night on the second night of a back-to-back set.
The Nuggets outscored the Grizzlies (13-28) 44-31 in the second half, beginning the third quarter on a 15-7 spurt. Nikola Jokic tied the score at 54 with a finish inside over Marc Gasol, then gave the Nuggets a two-point advantage with two free throws.
That lead only grew for Denver in the final quarter, with an alley-oop slam from Malik Beasley to Mason Plumlee making the score 79-66 with 6:15 to play. Memphis never got closer than eight points after that.
Will Barton started at shooting guard in place of an absent Gary Harris, who was attending to private family matters, and finished with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists for Denver. Trey Lyles added 16 points and five rebounds off the bench, while Jokic picked up 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Denver coach Michael Malone also gave significant time to reserves Beasley (nine points in 24 minutes) Kenneth Faried (four points, six rebounds in 15 minutes) and Richard Jefferson (four points, four rebounds in 19 minutes). Denver won despite shooting 38.6 percent from the field and 7-of-22 from 3-point range.
Gasol finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who shot 39 percent from the floor and committed 15 turnovers.
The Nuggets overcame another slow start, shooting 5-of-21 in the first quarter as Memphis built a 15-point lead. But Denver used a 22-12 second-quarter run to even the score at 38 when Barton sank a corner 3-pointer.
The game was in striking distance for Denver after that. Then the Nuggets took control for good in the third quarter.