The circus came to town Saturday night, and Bones Hyland was the ringleader.
The Nuggets’ precocious guard shimmied and waltzed all over the Spurs, spearheading a complete team effort in their 126-101 win. Now 6-3 overall and 4-0 at home, Hyland played to the fans like only he can do with his audacious dribbling and outlandish confidence.
After missing two consecutive games with a hip strain, maybe some of Hyland’s energy had been bottled up. He finished with 24 points on six 3-pointers, with seven assists and five rebounds. Off the bench, his energy was infectious. As a team, the Nuggets tallied 37 assists and shot 60% from the field.
Two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had the luxury of sitting the fourth quarter after registering 21 points on 9-for-10 shooting, 10 assists and six boards. His counterpart, Jamal Murray, flirted with a double-double of his own but the blowout meant Denver only needed him for 23 minutes. He logged 13 points and nine assists.
Michael Porter Jr. added 15 points and nine rebounds. His activity, on both ends, was outstanding.
The Nuggets will take Saturday’s circus on the road beginning Monday, when they’ll open a four-game road trip at San Antonio. The Spurs, not known for their defense this year, have plenty to clean up.
True to his nature, Jokic probably didn’t want to take some of the shots he took as the Nuggets pulled away in the third quarter, but the helpers from Murray were too sublime to bypass the looks. Three minutes into the quarter, Murray drove right, collapsing San Antonio’s defense. He flipped the ball backwards, where Jokic was waiting to drop in a floater. Two minutes later, Murray kicked back out to Jokic, who fired a seed to Porter under the basket. The Denver GlobeNuggets authored a passing clinic that kept San Antonio’s defenders spinning throughout the quarter.
The highlights only got more spectacular when Hyland spelled the starters. With all the momentum, the Nuggets carried a 99-76 lead into the fourth quarter.
Coming off Denver’s survival in Oklahoma City on Thursday, the Nuggets held shootaround Saturday morning but opted not to address their inconsistent defense from that night.
“Sometimes you gotta move on,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. Instead, preparations turned to Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, who entered the contest leading the NBA at 30 assists per game and whose ball movement would test Denver’s defense.
Throughout the first half, the Nuggets were game for the challenge as they took a 70-51 lead into halftime. While the defense was stout, the offense was devastating. Six different players entered the break with at least seven points, and the Nuggets blistered the nets at a 66% clip.
Murray (11 points) had a feverish start, which eventually gave way to Jokic, who had a team-high 12. His second-quarter tomahawk jam — off a feed from Murray — was the highlight of the first two quarters. The duo’s chemistry has returned only nine games into the season. That they now have shooters like Porter and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to complement them only makes Denver’s offense more potent.
Hyland’s return helped stabilize a second unit that had been in flux.
“It’s been really hard because, ‘Oh, you hear second unit’s not consistent,’” Malone said. “I will return the question. Have we had a consistent second unit?”
They did against the Spurs and reaped the benefits.