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Recap: The Nuggets defeated the Pelicans 113-108 despite Zion’s career high 39

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The Nuggets had their work cut out for them, but Jokic and tremendous Denver effort down the stretch pulled out the victory

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets withstood a battle from the New Orleans Pelicans, including a career-high 39 from Zion Williamson, and pulled out the victory over New Orleans 113-108. Williamson added 10 rebounds and 5 assists to his monster line, but the Nuggets fired back with 37 / 6 / 9 from Jokic, a 23 point and 11 assist effort from Murray and 25 points and 5 boards from Michael Porter Jr. Denver’s Big Three was enough to overcome Zion and the fierce effort from the Pelicans - barely. But on a night that had to be surging with emotion after the trades of Gary Harris, RJ Hampton and Isaiah Hartenstein, it was enough.

Game Flow

Jamal Murray hit a stepback jumper and Paul Millsap got blocked by Zion Williamson but grabbed the deflection and put it back in for Denver. The Pelicans answered back with a Steven Adams paint finish and a Zion three. Turnovers for Denver appeared early, leading to an early 10-4 Pelicans lead. Jokic put in a runner but Millsap struggled early keeping Zion from any place he wanted to get. Zion slammed home another dunk, Barton had another turnover, and Brandon Ingram’s three made it 17-8.

Ingram and Michael Porter Jr. traded buckets, and Porter on the boards helped Denver stem the tide briefly, but the Pelicans started 10-of-12 from the field. Jokic hit a late floater, MPJ hit a three with the clock winding down, and the Nuggets fought their way back with a Murray three making the deficit just 4. Denver hit a couple of free throws and slowed New Orleans with a Zone, and Nnaji tied it at 26 with a minute to go. Zion got an assist and then an And-1 finish, and New Orleans finished on a 7-0 run and with a 33-26 lead after 1.

Zion opened the second quarter with another finish at the rim, while Murray couldn’t finish on the other end. Eric Bledsoe hit another three while Denver had missed 10 of 11, with the only make from Zeke Nnaji. A Murray turnover led to another Zion bucket and a 14 point lead for New Orleans. Jokic had to come back in very early, just 2 minutes into the quarter, as the bench was terrible. Will Barton finally got a corner three to drop, Porter got a dunk, but Denver was just trading with the Pelicans. It was 45-33 four minutes into the quarter when Barton fed Jokic for the layup and Murray hit a bucket to make it 10. Every time the Nuggets looked like they might take it back to a two score game, though, the Pelicans would hit another 3. Jokic answered with one of his own to make it 53-44 Pelicans with just over 3 minutes left. Millsap finished an And-1, Porter hit a curl 3, Jokic tipped in his own miss, but again the Pelicans just couldn’t miss and got 3 free throws off a bad call to finish the half up 63-54.

Jokic and Zion traded buckets to start the half, then Zion picked Paul Millsap’s pocket for another bucket. MPJ answered back with a three, then Murray’s paint bucket made the deficit 10 again for Denver. Millsap took a Zion charge, Jokic hit a hook, then canned a long 2 after forcing an Ingram turnover. MPJ buried another three in Ingram’s face to cut it to 3, but Zion’s baseline dunk kept the lead for New Orleans. The Pels make a couple of baskets but a Barton block led to a Millsap three to cut it back to a one-possession game. Denver kept giving up paint points on New Orleans cuts, though, and could not retake the lead. Jokic blocked Bledsoe and Murray ran himself into a 3 that finally the game at 80 with just over 3 minutes left in the quarter.

Jokic buried another 3 as the Pelicans finally started coming up short, then fed MPJ for a dunk. Zion challenged Jokic and won for a layup, then finished again. A Murray-to-Jokic turnover let the Pelicans retake the lead to finish the quarter up 86-85.

Millsap started the final frame with a cleanup dunk off an MPJ miss. JaMychal Green missed a couple of threes at the top of the key, while Josh Hart made his triple for the Pelicans. Dozier missed a three then got blocked one-on-three as the bench seemed to forget MPJ was out there. Millsap bricked a three, the Nuggets butchered a fast-break and both Jokic Murray had to come back in. Murray missed a bank shot, but Jokic backed down Zion to cut the New Orleans lead back to 6. New Orleans hit a 3, then Hart’s foul shots made it 100-89 Pelicans.

Jokic and Dozier hit paint buckets to cut it back to 7, and then Murray stole the ball and got himself a traditional three-point play. Murray’s free throw capped a 7-0 Nuggets run, but a terrible Jokic turnover in the paint led to a Zion layup on the other end. MPJ came back in and immediate got fed for a 3 by Millsap to make it a one-possession game again. Millsap then swished his own three for the 102-102 tie. Zion made a pair of free throws, Jokic buried another 3, but Zion scored back over Jokic. Millsap finished in the paint but Zion kept demolishing Denver in the paint, doing whatever he wanted. Jokic got a pair of paint finishes to give Denver a 3 point lead with a minute to go. Millsap grabbed a crucial rebound on a missed Ingram 3, Jokic missed a jumper, and Barton’s key block on a three left Denver still up three with just a few seconds left. The Nuggets forced the 24 second violation and finished the game at the free throw line, 113-108.

Final Thoughts

  • I’m glad Denver got their big wing defender in Aaron Gordon. I wish we could have seen him tonight on Zion Williamson, because Zion absolutely decimated both Millsap and JaMychal Green in the first half with 19 points on just 8 shots. He continued his ways in the second half, going through Porter and Jokic and picking Millsap’s pocket for a career high. Denver needs a defender with that same motor and athleticism, and Gordon has it. I’m looking forward to seeing it in a Denver uniform on Sunday. The Nuggets need it if they’re going to ascend to the top of the West.
  • Denver’s doldrums finally ended with a narrow victory, but they need some new solutions to old problems. The bench was abjectly terrible tonight, and obviously misses Monte Morris and his steady direction. MPJ staying in the game to start the fourth quarter and then never getting fed by any of the bench players was a stark issue that put Denver behind the 8-ball and forced some extra minutes on Jokic and Murray. Denver’s Big Three all finished with 39+ minutes against a team fighting for the 10th spot in the West. Denver has got to get its bench production in order to ease the burden on its stars, and that process too starts on Sunday with some lineup changes. A return by Monte Morris soon wouldn’t be amiss either.
  • Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. New-look Nuggets starts Sunday. Don’t miss it.