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Recap: Will Barton wins game for Nuggets in thrilling finish

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The Nuggets starters fail miserably, Jokic gets injured, but Will Barton scores a new career high to power the team to victory.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that they had no business winning, the Nuggets had more points than the Bulls when the clock ran out, claiming a 111-110 victory on Tuesday night.

Will Barton scored a career high 37 points, putting the entire team on his back and carrying them to their twelfth win of the season. Robin Lopez and Lauri Markkanen each had 20 points for the Bulls.

The Nuggets starters came out with easily one of the worst performances of the season to this point. They didn’t have any energy, chemistry, and were taking bad shots. The Bulls pounced on the Nuggets ineptitude, taking a 22-8 lead before Coach Malone got the reserves in the game.

Will Barton checked in, and single-handedly saved the Nuggets first quarter, scoring a quick nine points. Barton and Trey Lyles brought energy and an ability to successfully put the ball through the hoop, but they weren’t able to close the lead entirely. The Bulls had a 39-30 lead after one, but things could have been much, much worse.

The second quarter began with Emmanuel Mudiay making some bad decisions, taking ill-advised jumpers and playing into the Bulls defense with pull-up mid-range jumpers. Malone rode the reserves long, and they ran out of gas, letting the Bulls start to pull away again. Malone pulled a hockey sub, bringing back the starters sans Faried and keeping Barton out through the remainder of the quarter.

The lowlight of the quarter came when Jokic drove the lane following a switch, only to step on Jerian Grant’s ankle and roll his ankle. Jokic came up limping, in a great deal of pain, nearly walking off the court before Richard Jefferson stopped him so he could shoot his free throws. The team finished strong to win the quarter, 32-29, but there was a sense of worry regarding Jokic’s injury.

The Nuggets responded well to the Jokic injury in the third quarter, playing like they realized they were going to lose unless things changed dramatically. They were helped by Barton, who started in place of Jokic as the team went small. The team also realized the Bulls couldn’t defend the rim, and began attacking for easy points. Their defense was more aggressive, and Barton just poured in points to help the Nuggets reclaim the lead momentarily. The Bulls lead 92-91, but it just set the stage for an entertaining fourth quarter.

The Nuggets kept things entertaining at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with Emmanuel Mudiay helping propel the offense to keep pace with the Bulls. Both teams struggled to score as they ran out of gas, with neither team’s head coach forgetting they could call a timeout to give their players a chance to catch their breath.

Gary Harris had a great sequence to re-energize the team, making two free throws and blocking a Lauri Markkanen layup. Will Barton got fouled on a 3-point attempt, making all three to tie the game at 108. Another Barton free throw gave the Nuggets a one-point lead, leaving the Nuggets with an opportunity to make a defensive stop to preserve a win.

Unfortunately, the Bulls were able to get Kenneth Faried switched onto Kris Dunn on the perimeter, a situation the Nuggets are all too well familiar with. Dunn blitzed past Faried like a Black Friday shopper after the doors are unlocked, laying the ball in to give the Bulls a one-point lead and the Nuggets with zero timeouts.

Enter Will Barton.

Barton took the ball down the court, told the Bulls to get out of the way, and laid the ball in for the game-winning bucket. Woooooooo!

Three Thoughts

Not Jokic, why God why. Jokic stepped on Jerian Grant’s ankle on a drive in the second quarter, rolling it and limping away in serious pain. He nearly left the court without shooting his free throws, but Richard Jefferson stopped him before he left. He limped off to the locker room, and didn’t return for the rest of the game.

If it’s a high ankle sprain and he’s out for a month, that’s gonna suck soooo much.

Somehow, the Nuggets won with Murray and Mudiay playing poorly. I mentioned in the preview that the Nuggets struggled to win if Murray and Mudiay played poorly. The two guards went 3 for 18 with four turnovers and four assists, struggling to lead the offense, especially after Jokic went out.

No Jokic. No Millsap. Two young point guards that are consistently inconsistent. This is going to be fun.

Will Barton is the best healthy player on the roster. He has the will to win, the ability to score nearly whenever he wants, and now it looks like he’ll have the freedom to lead the offense.

It’s going to be a fun year with him playing like this.

Box Score