This playoff thing isn’t over yet. The Denver Nuggets started well, faltered in the second, found their groove in the third and cruised through the fourth quarter as they handily defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 122 to 106. Nikola Jokic went for 23 / 12 / 5 in 29 minutes and sat the entire fourth quarter, but the game belonged to Jamal Murray who had a career-high 30 on just 14 shots, to go with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Gary Harris had one of his sneakily-terrific nights with 20 points, 6 rebounds and a career-high 9 assists, with some more highlight plays. Denver’s young players stated their case for bearing the burden in future years. If this is Denver’s core in future years it’s hard not to be excited about what it could bring.
Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris had all 6 of Denver's points in the first three minutes, but New Orleans also got to the line early and worked the boards and the turnovers. Faried and Jokic each made a free throw before this Gallo-to-Faried oop for a 12-7 early lead:
Mason Plumlee made an early appearance for Faried after that, just in time to watch Gallo put in a dunk. Etuan Moore hit a three to tie it at 14, however, before the Nuggets went on a 7-0 run. Harris fell down but got a pass to Emmanuel Mudiay and then back to Jokic for a three. Plumlee had a nice block but the Denver offense then sputtered as Moore clawed the Pelicans back. Mudiay looked a little rough in his early stint and the Nuggets had some uneven offensive moments. Once Gary Harris snagged a steal for a dunk, though, Denver found its stride. Gallo hit a 3, Jamal Murray and Plumlee did a great give-and-go for a Murray dunk, and then an out-of-control Mudiay found Murray for another dunk. Despite a terrible turnover for a layup in the last two seconds, the Nuggets led 30-25 after one.
Murray took an inbounds and went all the way to the rim for a finger roll to start the second, and Mudiay hit a rolling Plumlee for another dunk and a 36-27 lead. Mason pounded another dunk over a guard before Anthony Davis came back in, down 11 - and proceeded to impose his will on the game again. A non-call on a foul on Plumlee, a Jordan Crawford bucket and a Davis dunk cut the lead to 5, and the Plumlee-Faried spacing made things a little tough for Denver.
Jokic came back in with 7 minutes to go in the quarter as Davis continued to harass Plumlee. The Pelicans made an 11-2 run with Denver going back to turnovers (10 to that point) from trying to do too much instead of finishing the play. Jrue Holiday's 3 put the Pelicans in front 41-40. The crowd was stone silent with the Nuggets providing about the same amount of energy. Jokic finally hit a reverse to stop an 18-4 run, and using Jokic as the offensive pivot Denver kept the narrowest of leads at halftime, 51-50. despite the Joker's 5 turnovers and 12 as a team.
The Nuggets started off the third with 5 attempted 3, missing 4 of them. Jokic hit a step-in jumper and Faried recovered his own pass off the bottom of the backboard for a layup, then a Faried-to-Harris finish extended the lead to 60-54. Murray got fouled at the rim for free throws then hit a three to make it 65-58, and Jokic got his double-double before the halfway point in the third. Denver's defense was much more energetic in the third quarter. The aggressive Nuggets got New Orleans in the penalty, with the young backcourt attacking the rim on every opportunity and took a 73-60 lead after an 11-2 run.
After passing up some open shots, Jokic snagged another open three and Mudiay finally hit a hitched 3 of his own, and the Jokic-Harris-Mudiay combination played to poetry. More incredible ball movement led to 10 straight field goals after another Mudiay 3 and a 20 point lead at 84-64. Harris hit a three to stop a mini run by New Orleans, Mudiay made a free throw and Denver posted a 41 point third quarter for a 92-74 lead.
The Nuggets started the quarter playing hard, led by the effort from Plumlee, and Mudiay twisted his ankle while still finding Murray for a monster dunk. Murray dunked again with an aggressive follow, looking completely unstoppable on his way to the rim in this game.
Murray's three free throws got him to a new career-high in points, and Chandler hit a three for a 109-87 lead as they were cruising in the fourth. Harris continued the dunkathon, as Chris Marlowe called it, with a thunderous one-handed version with 5 minutes to go, and Murray followed it with a step-to three. Juancho Hernangomez came in for Gallinari with 4 minutes to go and the crowd chanting, "We want Mike" for the Mike Miller garbage time show. They got it at the 3 minute mark right after Juancho hit a three to join the party and kick Denver's score over 120. Denver's mop-up crew was completely out of sorts and never scored again, but Denver still closed it out for a 122-106 victory.
Denver’s youth remembered what it was playing for. Gallinari had 13, most of it in the first quarter, and Chandler had some good defensive plays to go with his 7 and 7, but this game belonged to the youngsters. They attacked all game long and the Jokic / Harris / Murray trifecta posted 73 of Denver’s 122 points. It was a shame Mudiay twisted his ankle because everyone in Denver’s back court was playing well. That said, Denver didn’t skip a beat with Murray shouldering 38 minutes and looking comfortable.
This was not a full-strength Pelicans team. Davis was on a minutes restriction, DeMarcus Cousins didn’t play at all, and they were missing several other players. Regardless, Denver owed this team for the beating they took at home a couple of weeks ago and absolutely had to have this game to keep their playoffs hopes alive. They came through on both counts, and whatever happens the rest of this year, next year looks awfully bright. Carry on, Denver. It ain’t over til it’s over.