Nikola Jokic was able to eventually crack the Pacers defense, taking over in the fourth quarter to help put the Monday night game away, with the Nuggets winning 121-106.
Jokic lead the team in scoring with 32 points, but got a lot of help from his teammates in the final frame, with the Nuggets reeling off a 26-4 run to start the quarter and put the game out of reach against their Eastern Conference opponent.
The Pacers shot 42 3-point attempts in the game, converting 17, but couldn’t get enough contribution from the bench outside of Doug McDermott to keep pace with the Nuggets.
The Nuggets started with Millsap at power forward tonight, their same lineup they used against the Mavericks with Monte Morris out with an injury. Will Barton started off hot, getting two 3-pointers and a trip to the free throw line for two more points to get Denver out to an 8-2 lead. Michael Porter Jr. made his first jumper, getting a midrange shot to fall over Myles Turner. Jokic missed a layup pretty badly, but looked like he cramped up, and the Nuggets called a timeout so he could stretch out his hamstring. The Nuggets defense got another stop, got into their halfcourt quickly, and Barton hit his third 3-pointer on as many attempts in the quarter to put Denver up 19-9.
The Pacers went zone for a possession after a timeout, which confused the Nuggets into a turnover, but Barton hit his fourth 3-pointer the next time down to put his team up by 10 points. MPJ got a chasedown block against Brogdon, but the ball wound up in the hands of Doug McDermott in the corner, who knocked down a 3-pointer. The Nuggets hit 30 points for the quarter courtesy of an offensive rebound and lay-in by Porter Jr., as the starters began to sit for the reserves for both teams. The bench miraculously wasted the lead that the starters built, giving up an 18-6 run over the final four minutes to leave the first quarter knotted up at 32 each.
The Nuggets started the second quarter with a 3-pointer from JaMychal Green, and followed it up with another turnover when Facu Campazzo threw a bounce pass when Isaiah Hartenstein thought he was getting a lob. P.J. Dozier was able to hit a deep 3-pointer from the top of the arc, and the bench managed to get a stop on the next possession after TJ McConnell took an elbow to the face from a ref on accident. Murray hit an incredible 3-pointer, spinning around his defender and immediately elevating into his jumper from the left wing.
The Nuggets had a nice play out of a timeout, with Campazzo finding Murray, who unselfishly set up Green for a nice 3-pointer that was all net. They got a stop on the other end, and Murray screened open Green for a wide-open dunk. Jokic checked back in the game, and he hit a triple of his own to push the Nuggets run to 17-0. Denver ran a nifty DHO play with Murray as the handoff threat. He faked the handoff to Barton, rolled into the lane, and was able to elevate for a powerful two-handed dunk.
Brogdon ended the Nuggets long run with a corner 3-pointer, and Justin Holiday ended a series of missed opportunities with a 3-pointer of his own. Denver came out of a timeout, and weren’t able to score on a play the Pacers were able to break up. They made a better effort to get Jokic the ball, and their All-Star was able to generate points by going to the rim to either score or get to the free throw line. Jokic and Murray ran a nice back-cut play for a layup, and MPJ got a bucket off a DHO with the big fella on their final possession of the first half.
The two teams started the second half with a wild series of events that wound up with the Nuggets on a 3 on 1 break that ended with a Murray triple. Caris LeVert answered for Indiana — it’s good to see him healthy and playing — and Brogdon scored an easy layup off a simple block into transition by Turner. The Pacers worked the ball around against the Nuggets defense after a timeout, finding Justin Holiday for a 3-pointer, their twelfth of the game. MPJ missed a deep 3-pointer, then got caught ball-watching as LeVert got loose for a transition layup. Turner put Millsap on skates, crossing him up into the paint and soaring for a two-handed dunk. Sabonis caught an elbow from MPJ on the next play battling for a rebound, and Porter got called for the offensive foul on the inadvertent play.
The Pacers captured the lead after a Nuggets turnover, with Barton throwing a bad pass in the pick and roll into Jokic’s knees, and Brogdon hitting a 3-pointer on the other end. The Pacers went back to that same spot on their next offensive possession and converted with Holiday shooting the ball, as the Nuggets defense wasn’t able to close out in time. LeVert hit a 3-pointer next, after Barton took a break under a screen, as the Pacers continued to bomb from distance, their 35th 3-point attempt of the game.
The Pacers were able to successfully challenge a foul, when Brogdon was called for a charge against Jamal Murray. The Nuggets point guard answered with a 3-pointer, and both teams struggled to get an open look for the next couple of possessions. The Pacers went on a small run as the reserves began to make their way onto the court, with McDermott hitting his fourth 3-pointer of the game off an assist by Aaron Holiday. There was a crazy sequence in the final minute, with the Nuggets grabbing five offensive rebounds in a row, but couldn’t score on six consecutive shot attempts where the referees blatantly swallowed their whistles. The two teams ended the quarter with the Pacers up 91-87, with the Nuggets getting outscored 35-22 in the frame.
JaMychal Green saved a bad Nuggets possession with a 3-pointer, then followed it up with a block on Domantas Sabonis near the rim. The Nuggets were able to contest a Sabonis layup well, and Porter got open under the rim for an easy layup. Millsap battled for a tough rebound, managing to out-muscle Sabonis for the one-handed putback. The defense forced the Pacers into a shot-clock violation, and then ran a clean play for MPJ, setting him up for a shot off a screen that he buried a step inside the 3-point line. That basket triggered a timeout by the Pacers to regroup after the Nuggets 12-0 run to start the quarter.
The Nuggets defense came up big after the quick break, with Campazzo getting a deflection, then the team showing some snazzy ball movement to get Dozier an open dunk. After the bench blew a lead in the first quarter, they completely turned the tables in the fourth with an excellent stretch of play that was capitalized by Barton hitting his first bucket of the second half on a 3-point attempt. Campazzo forced a miss on a drive by Brogdon by what looked like putting face on the ball, checking out for Jokic shortly after that stop.
The pride of Sombor, Serbia made his first two shots after checking into the game, splashing a 3-pointer at the end of the shot block and then stroking in a midrange jumper out of a pick and roll play with Murray. Jokic got one of those weird two-handed push shots to fall, helping Denver extend their 24-4 run in the quarter. Murray picked up an assist to Barton, threading the needle for a dunk to put the team up 113-95. Jokic continued to make another case for the MVP award, tapping the ball loose from Sabonis for a steal, then getting a foul drawn against Turner to reach 30 points on the evening. MPJ got a sweet baseline drive dunk to reach 20 points on 15 shots (zero 3-pointers), and Murray picked up another assist by zinging the ball to Jokic in the post for a bank shot layup that was the dagger for the game. The 3rd-stringers finished out the final two minutes of the game, with Greg Whittington unable to get his first career points, and the scoreboard read 121-106 Denver at the end of regulation.
Three Things I Noticed
The Nuggets offense sputtered at times, but finally clicked. Whether it was Barton, Murray, Jokic, MPJ, or Green, they never really could get everyone rolling at the same time for most of the game. They struggled with turnovers that got them out of a rhythm at times, forcing them to resort to set plays to try to get the ball through the hoop. Once the fourth quarter started though, they hit a groove and just took off. Helps to be able to play smaller with Green and Millsap at center — Hartenstein isn’t going to cut it as the backup center anymore. They either need to find a rim-protecting big via trade, or just stick with Green/Millsap and commit to that personnel group.
A great Will Barton game. It’s noticeable the difference Barton makes on the team when his shot is falling. He brings a lot to the team, both on and off the court, and it really makes a difference when he can help space the court. He had a bad turnover in the pick and roll, but had several slick passes off of drives and was good on the defensive glass too. You can tell he loves it when his teammates succeed, and his teammates love it when he succeeds. A great leader for this team.
Jokic — give him the MVP! On a night where he struggled to draw a whistle against Myles Turner, he was still able to dominate the game in other ways. He had a great defensive performance, was active on the offensive glass with six boards there, and once he figured out the Pacers defense, took over to put the game to bed. Is there anyone in the NBA having a better season than our starting center? No! He needs to be mentioned as the frontrunner for the MVP award every time his name is brought up in a conversation about basketball. Breathe life into his MVP case — the world needs to know what we know.