The Nuggets evened their season series against the Spurs, winning 122-119 in a highly entertaining game to kick off the final stretch of the season following the All-Star break.
Nikola Jokic had 28 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds before fouling out late in the fourth, and Wilson Chandler responded to the coaching staff’s decision to keep him in the starting lineup with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 38 points for the Spurs, and San Antonio nearly pulled off the road win, but they weren’t able to get stops in the final minute to secure their comeback.
Chandler got six of the Nuggets first eight points, knocking down two 3-pointers. Gary Harris had a nice drive and finish off a dribble handoff from Jokic, but the Nuggets were a little tentative driving the rim to start the game. Both teams showed a little discomfort, which is expected, with it being the first game back from the All-Star break. The Nuggets defense turned into traffic cones at the end of the first, giving up wide open, uncontested layups, but Chandler and Trey Lyles were able to get baskets to keep the team ahead of San Antonio on the scoreboard, 32-30.
Much like the last game they played, the two squads traded baskets back and forth, with one team grabbing a lead, only to have the other team retake it moments later. Malik Beasley did his job, knocking down a 3-pointer that looked good the second it left his hands. Gary Harris had a nice transition bucket, catching a pass from Pau Gasol by the Spurs free throw line and racing down the court to finish through a weak slap that was whistled by the referee. Chandler continued his torrid shooting, knocking down his fourth 3-pointer, and Jokic made a shot from the perimeter to give the Nuggets 63 points going into halftime.
The Spurs opened the second half on a 8-2 run, moving the ball around while the Nuggets struggled with turnovers. They righted the ship, and got back into the flow of the game, with Jokic edging closer to another triple-double. The Spurs attacked the Nuggets in the paint, going the whole quarter without a 3-point attempt. Tony Parker was clipped by Patty Mills, and needed a minute to get back up. The Nuggets went on a small run towards the end of the quarter, taking a 90-83 lead after a Gary Harris basket.
Both teams were sharing the ball really well to start the fourth, racking up assists, but the Nuggets missed a couple shots and next thing you knew, it was a two point lead, 101-99. Jokic checked back in, and picked up his third straight triple-double on an assist to Will Barton (have we mentioned he should win player of the month for February?). Jokic grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled with 8:15 left in the game, getting the Nuggets into the bonus with a lot of time left in the quarter.
Aldridge scored five straight points, drawing the Spurs within three points, 111-108, getting the benefit of a quick whistle from the refs. The refs really took over against the Nuggets for the next couple of minutes, just gifting the Spurs whistle after whistle to help Gregg Popovich’s squad get back in the game. Jamal Murray and Michael Malone were called for a technical, which was total bullshit. Jokic FOULED OUT after a couple very questionable calls didn’t go his way, which was total bullshit.
Gary Harris responded to the refs in the best way possible - by being a total G and getting buckets. A stepback jumper and a dunk, and it was 120-115 Denver, and there was nothing the refs could do about it. Jamal Murray found Mason Plumlee for a dunk with 10 seconds left, the Spurs missed a 3-pointer, and while Pau Gasol put back the missed shot, they ran out of time for the refs to give them any more chances.
The Nuggets had to win eight on five. The Nuggets are not a foul-happy team, but were called for 27 fouls tonight. This tweet by the head Stiffs sums it up well:
Nuggets opponents attempt just 19 FTs per game, the 5th lowest mark. Spurs have taken 39 and counting.— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) February 24, 2018
The last couple of fouls on Jokic were extremely questionable. Jokic was flailing after getting fouled by Gasol - offensive foul. Jokic was tied up by Patty Mills going for a loose ball - offensive foul. Jokic spun on a post move, backing a guard towards the rim after a switch, only to see the guard flop - offensive foul, and he’s done. The last two minute is going to be full of red ink, and the refs should be ashamed of their unprofessional effort.
Regardless ... the Nuggets are playing so hot right now. The Nuggets have hung 117 and 122 on the Spurs in their last two games against them - the Spurs have been holding teams to 98.5 points per game this season. Jokic ball works - its undeniable at this point. The offense has such great rhythm, Jokic looks incredibly comfortable - it’s really noticeable on his 3-point attempts. There’s incredible spacing, with the guards finding chasms to the rim with Chandler and Barton spacing the defense out. Even when Plumlee was in the game, things were clicking (outside of a few ugly Plumlee post-ups, that Plumlee-Jokic DHO shouldn’t be repeated). The Nuggets have a difficult schedule to close out the season, but if they play like this ... home court in round one?????
Marcus Camby. Kenyon Martin. Allen Iverson. It was really cool to see those three players back in Pepsi Center. I’m sure I speak for a lot of Nuggets fans when I say that those 2000s teams made me a Nuggets fan. I gave teammates high-fives with the back of my hand like Camby. I crowed like K-Mart (my all-time favorite Nugget) after putbacks. I tried to cross people over like AI. For a scrawny kid that grew up in the mountains, the Thuggets were the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It was really special to see them back together, and remember one of the most fun eras of Nuggets basketball.