LAS VEGAS • The first play of Sunday’s Summer League game against the Cavaliers allowed Peyton Watson and the rest of the Nuggets to put the first game behind him.
“It did everything for our team. We get a play like that to start the game, it energizes us. It gets us locked in and focused,” Watson said. “I think we carried that momentum throughout the game. It helped lead us to a win, so I’m glad Coach entrusted me with being able to facilitate early.”
In his Summer League debut Friday, Watson struggled with his shot and committed six turnovers. Denver’s Summer League coach, Ryan Bowen, went right back to Watson to open the 84-76 win over Cleveland. On the Nuggets’ first possession, Watson lobbed a pass to Ismael Kamagate for a bucket, something they practiced Saturday.
“He was terrific,” Bowen said after Watson put up 19 points, seven rebounds, two steals, a block and the game-opening assist. “I ran the first play for him. He made a nice play for a dunk and kind of got things going. He’s a competitor. He wants to go out and play.”
Watson got the offense started and helped the Nuggets close out their first win of the summer. The Nuggets led by as many as 12 in the second half, but the Cavaliers closed within three late in the fourth quarter. Watson then put down a powerful dunk off a feed from Collin Gillespie and splashed a corner 3 on consecutive possessions, stretching the lead to eight. He’s averaged 29 minutes of playing time in the first two games, a big improvement after ample playing time wasn’t available in his lone season at UCLA.
“I’m just out here proving something to myself, you know? I don’t care what anybody else says on social media or how people try to paint me,” Watson said. “I know who I am. I know what I can do, and this is more so me proving to myself that I’m still that player and I’m one of the best players in this draft.”
Watson also had a put-back dunk, following a Christian Braun miss, that helped the Nuggets take a 50-46 halftime lead.
“I almost didn’t run down, because I got that much faith in Christian that he’s going to knock that down,” Watson said.
“When I saw the way it bounced off the rim, my eyes lit up. I couldn’t wait. … More than anything, I gave my team an offensive rebound and two points.”
Braun, the player picked nine spots ahead of Watson at 30, missed all eight of his three-point attempts but managed to finish with 10 points, five assists and three steals. Collin Gillespie finished second on the Nuggets with 17 points and added seven rebounds and six assists. Kamagate finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Like Kamagate, Jack White just missed out on a double-double with eight points and 15 rebounds, a big part of Denver’s 55-41 advantage on the glass. R.J. Nembhard Jr. led the Cavaliers with 19 points.
Watson and the Nuggets will look for another step forward and a second win of the summer Wednesday against the Clippers.
“I just felt like I was more decisive,” Watson said. “I was playing off the catch today. I was just making the game easier for myself, and luckily, I got great teammates who put me in positions to score and have a good game.”