Nuggets’ fill-in coach Popeye Jones on Facu Campazzo: “I wish I could’ve played him 48 minutes”

HOUSTON – Acting Nuggets head coach Popeye Jones was probably talking in jest. Hopefully.

In the jubilant glow of Saturday night’s 124-111 win over the Rockets, Jones’ first as a replacement head coach, he beamed about the effort Facu Campazzo had displayed.

“He orchestrated it all, man,” Jones said. “He was awesome. I wish I could’ve played him 48 minutes, if you want to know the truth.”

Fortunately for Jones, and probably for Campazzo, Denver’s assistant coaches stepped in and kept reminding Jones that he needed a break. Still, Campazzo played a team-high 34 minutes, with a career-high 22 points, 12 assists, five steals and eight deflections. His incessant efforts earned him the Defensive Player of the Game, an honor he said he cherished more than his offensive stats.

“Defense, for sure. I like to win my confidence on the game from the defense,” said Campazzo, who was mildly discouraged to have such a night since it meant conducting a post-game interview in English.

Without Jamal Murray and without Monte Morris, who entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Jones had no other choice at point guard. Austin Rivers, capable of handling point guard duties in an emergency, played through a sprained right thumb that he appeared to re-aggravate late in the fourth quarter Saturday.

The Nuggets were so depleted at point guard they signed Carlik Jones to a 10-day hardship exception. He met the team on Saturday.

“What I was trying to do is, when Facu’s out, make Joker our one,” Jones said in earnest.

Campazzo’s pace was the X-factor of Saturday’s win. He pushed a Rockets team without a hint of defensive identity on its heels. With aggressive drives and seamless pick-and-rolls, he picked apart their porous coverages. And when the ball found him on the perimeter, he shot it with confidence, as evident by his three 3-pointers.

“Just love the pace that he plays at and how much heart he has,” said Aaron Gordon, who was the beneficiary of Campazzo’s double behind-the-back sequence with 1:40 left in the first half. Campazzo’s hard dribble erased Rockets wing Kevin Porter Jr. before his second behind-the-back, this one a pass, set Gordon up inside.

Asked about the sequence after the game, Campazzo just laughed.

As much pride as Campazzo takes on the defensive end – and he’s good for at least one horizontal, loose ball dive a game – the Argentinian can’t help but play with panache on offense. During the Nuggets’ 47-point outburst in the second quarter, he played a devilish pick-and-roll with JaMychal Green that left Houston big man Christian Wood exposed.

Campazzo, as he’s won’t to do, saw an opening and seized it.

“The pass between the legs, it’s just try to take advantage of my size because every big man is like showing so hard and bigger than me, with legs open …” he said.

Green dunked it with authority.

The lesson of Saturday’s game, as Campazzo eloquently put it, was that Denver’s effort must mask their deficiencies. Not that Campazzo ever takes a night off, but without so many key contributors, he acknowledged the effort and the hustle needed to be ratcheted up.

“We have to,” he said. “If we don’t do that, we’re gonna lose games. … Not 100%, (but) 200%. Even more smart, be focused on every play. Play every offense as a final, as a playoff mentality.”

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