Nuggets Rockets Basketball

Houston Rockets guard Armoni Brooks, left, fouls Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Facundo Campazzo’s second-quarter show erased an early deficit and sparked the Denver Nuggets’ 124-111 win Saturday in Houston.

The Rockets led by 11 in the first quarter and took a one-point lead to the second quarter. Reserve forward Vlatko Cancar gave the shorthanded Nuggets their first lead with a 3-pointer – off a Campazzo assist - in the first minute of the second, starting what became a 47-point quarter.

“I think it was a lot of Facu, honestly,” Popeye Jones, acting as the Nuggets’ head coach with Michael Malone in the league’s health and safety protocols, said. “Getting in the paint, we were able to get stops. We were able to get out and run, but Facu, he orchestrated it all, man. He was awesome. I wish I could have played him 48 minutes.”

Jones played Campazzo just over 34 minutes, which was enough after the Nuggets’ highest-scoring quarter of the season gave Denver a 77-55 lead at halftime. The Nuggets cruised in the second half to get Jones a win in his head-coaching debut.

Campazzo dished out seven of his 12 assists in the second quarter and scored 10 of his career-high 22 points in the period. He also recorded five steals and two blocks, both tying his previous NBA highs.

“It’s very important to score in this league, but I just try to create my game from defense,” Campazzo said. “I try to be focused, smart, a lot of hustle, don’t make mistakes in the defense. I think I did that during the game.”

Denver’s Argentine point guard put one of those assists between Christian Wood’s legs, leading to a JaMychal Green dunk, and he later threw a behind-the-back pass to Aaron Gordon, who scored 10 points in the final six minutes of the first half.

“I just love the pace that he plays at and how much heart he has, you know. You can’t teach that,” Gordon said. “The passion that he plays with is inspiring. He had a hell of a game tonight. (He) makes the game easier.”

Gordon finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Will Barton III finished with 12 points, while Vlatko Cancar, JaMychal Green and Bol Bol scored 11 points apiece off the bench. Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 24 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.

“We create our game from him,” Campazzo said of Jokic. “I just tried to play with a lot of hustle, energy. On defense (I tried) to be aggressive. On offense, I don’t know, just tried to be myself.”

The Nuggets added Rayton Tucker and Carlik Jones using the league’s hardship exception in the day leading up to the game with Monte Morris, Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji and Jeff Green also in health and safety protocols. Tucker scored three points and grabbed three rebounds, while Jones, who joined the team before the game Saturday, got on the court to close the game.

The Rockets jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first five minutes, as the Nuggets made just one of their first nine shots. Jones credited the bench for getting the Nuggets back in the game before Campazzo did most of his damage in the second quarter.

“Facu was great," Jones said. "I thought he was great on the offensive end, running pick and rolls, getting in the paint. Then, defensively, he was defensive player of the game. He was all over the place. He had eight deflections, five steals, but his penetration, I thought, was a big key to this game.”

Campazzo, the Nuggets’ only healthy point guard before Jones arrived, could be in line for another fun night Monday if another guard can’t make it back for Denver’s game in Dallas.

“I just try to enjoy every time I have the ball, (get) my teammates involved in the game,” Campazzo said. “I enjoy (that) a lot.”

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