The Denver Nuggets were looking to go perfect on their three game homestand and had only the Indiana Pacers left to complete their task. Nikola Jokic had a monster start and a big game overall but got ejected with three minutes to go. The Pacers got in front early and then let the Nuggets get back in it but Denver, behind Jokic’s ejection, let the Pacers bring the game down to the wire. Indiana would have the last shot, but were unable to convert and Denver escapes with another win.
Denver and Indiana didn’t waste time waiting to score, with the Pacers hitting a couple threes right out of the gate and attacking the basket. Indiana scored 12 points in the first three minutes of the game forcing coach Michael Malone to take a timeout. It did little to deter them, just like some questionable Nuggets defense, and Indy stretched the lead to ten. Jokic led a charge on offense to spark a 6-0 run and then he traded baskets with Bojan Bogdanovic through the meat of the quarter. Joker didn’t have his three point shot working but he had the rest of his arsenal at its finest. He gave Myles Turner fits down low and scored sixteen points in the first quarter alone. Despite Nikola’s dominance, the Nuggets had no answer for Indiana on defense and they carried the lead throughout the first. After one it was Pacers 36, Nuggets 25.
Malik Beasley hit a three to open the quarter but outside of that the Nuggets were still struggling to hit jumpshots and also had decided to not defend Doug McDermott in the corner. The Nuggets bench was able to hang in until Jokic checked back in, but Juancho Hernangomez was in and was being eaten alive by Domantas Sabonis. Indiana kept pushing out their lead, getting whatever they wanted on offense. Malone got the starters back in and they were able to start chipping away at the lead but continued to give up momentum crushing threes. Finally, the starters got themselves together and took advantage of some Pacers turnovers and put together a run behind the three point line as the quarter was drawing to a close. Barton caught fire and capped off the run with a step back three to pull the Nuggets within three at the half.
Both teams started the half cold from the floor, but attacking the rim. They traded baskets throughout the beginning of the half with Denver just not quite able to come all the way back. Jokic finally hit his first three around the seven minute mark and that gave the Nuggets their first lead since the 10:23 mark of the first quarter. The Nuggets defense and energy had picked up considerably as the momentum fully shifted into their favor. It looked like the Nuggets were about to blow the roof off the Pepsi Center when Gary Harris got a break away but he missed the dunk and then Plumlee was called for a flagrant 1 on the rebound. The pace slowed down after that, which seemed to play into Indiana’s favor but they had gone ice cold from the floor. Denver’s bench was able to hold serve and held a four point lead going into the fourth.
Murray opened the quarter with an impressive sequence, drawing three straight fouls on Corey Joseph and cashing in the free throws to put Denver in front by five. The Pacers continued to struggle from the floor, and the Nuggets lead was pushing up towards double digits. Still, the Pacers wouldn’t go away and remained within striking distance with four minutes to go. The Nuggets were up by seven when Jokic got tangled with Myles Turner under the basket. Tony Brothers called the foul on Joker and Jokic lost his cool. He picked up back to back technicals and was ejected. Bogdanovic knocked down both technical free throws and then Turner knocked down both of his free throws to pull within three points. Denver turned to Millsap who got three straight points to put them back up by six. Bogdanovic drew Plumlee’s sixth foul with just over a minute to go and hit both free throws to pull within four. Turner responded with an and-one after that and Denver’s lead was just one with 45 seconds to go. Hernangomez, who had checked in for Plumlee, went over the back on Turner who converted one of two to tie it. After a timeout Denver ran a nice pick and pop with Murray and Millsap and Millsap was able to drive to the rim from the perimeter and get the layup to go up two with seven seconds. Bogdanovic got the last shot, but he hit back iron and the Nuggets escaped 102-100.
Best matchup: Jamal Murray vs Darren Collison
Murray and Collison went back and forth in the game tonight. Collison had the early advantage while Murray shared in the Nuggets struggles. Darren chose his spots well and was very efficient from the floor. Murray would strike back in the second half though, making several nice moves in the third and being a key catalyst in the Nuggets comeback. It was a good snapshot of the difference between the two players. Collison was a steady force throughout the game and Murray was streaky but when he had it going he swung the game almost by himself.
Main thing I noticed: Jokic can not do that
Jokic was right to be upset with Tony Brothers’ call, it was questionable at best. He cannot however pick up back to back technicals in a tight game at the end of the fourth quarter in the midst of the stretch run of the season. Indy wasn’t really a threat in the fourth quarter until that sequence, it pulled them within one basket and simultaneously cost the Nuggets their best player for the closing moments of the game. The most egregious part of it was Jokic knew what he was doing, he just totally lost control. Make no mistake, he had some choice words for Brothers that he knew would get him tossed and he doubled down on them. Love the intensity, but as the star player he’s got to be better than that.