Nikola Jokic had a MVP moment in the third quarter, scoring 16 of his 32 points, and Facundo Campazzo carried them down the stretch with 15 fourth quarter points to help the Nuggets pick up a big win.
Lonzo Ball had a triple-double for the Pelicans, finishing with 16 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds in 36 minutes, while lead their team with 27 points on 22 shots.
The Nuggets started the game with a nice play to free up Aaron Gordon for a dunk, running a back screen to create space. Jokic scored the next two baskets for Denver, with the second coming off a nifty spin against Zion Williamson and a whole lot of spin off the backboard for a reverse layup. Gordon earned a trip to the free throw line against Williamson, with the former Blue Devil picking up his first foul. Campazzo broke down the defense with a drive into the paint and found P.J. for a 3-pointer. The Pelicans went on a solid 10-2 run to trim the lead back down to a single possession, aided by a couple missed shots from the Nuggets and a turnover.
The Nuggets got a 3-pointer from Jokic off some nice ball movement from Campazzo and Austin Rivers, and then the MVP had an amazing two-handed reverse dunk in the style of Mason Plumlee. Shaquille Harrison had two impact plays, racing down the court after a rebound for a transition layup, and then picking Brandon Ingram’s pocket for a steal that lead to another layup. Austin Rivers stole the ball from James Johnson, and Paul Millsap somehow got up high enough for an alley-oop in transition over Johnson in one of the greatest dunks of the Nuggets season. Millsap reached down deep in his bag a few possessions later, scrounging around the Werthers and flyers from the local bowling alley, crossing up Zion before finishing with his left-hand in the paint. Dozier couldn’t connect with JaVale McGee for a dunk to end the quarter, but they were able to capture a 35-25 lead.
Denver started the second quarter with a nice connection between Facu and JaVale, who was able to finish at the rim for his first field goal. MPJ had a couple nice plays, including a fadeaway 20-footer off a screen that caused the Pelicans to call timeout. Both teams struggled to score for a few minutes, with the Nuggets missing too many shots and not getting Jokic the ball to help set up the offense. They went over four minutes without a bucket before Aaron Gordon salvaged a really ugly offensive possession with an isolation mid-range jumper.
Jokic was able to power to the rim to break their small slump, finishing in traffic off glass. Ingram answered on the other end, but Dozier hit his second 3-pointer to keep the Nuggets offense putting up points. MPJ was gifted a steal by Ingram, who just tossed the ball into his hands trying to reset, and finished with a scoop layup over Lonzo Ball on the other end. The Pellies got the score within four points after back-to-back 3-pointers courtesy of Ingram and Ball, but MPJ hit a deep 3-pointer of his own to prevent a run. Ingram missed a 3-pointer trying to set up a two-for-one, and Jokic made him pay by finishing in traffic near the rim on the other end. Denver carried a 60-52 lead into halftime, getting some help from New Orleans’ 15 turnovers to help them overcome some cold 3-point shooting.
MPJ started the quarter with a wild 3-pointer, drawing contact on an awkward attempt that still managed to rattle home somehow. Jokic got a fadeaway to fall over Willy Hernangomez, who started the second half for an injured Steven Adams, but Lonzo hit a 3-pointer to counter on the opposite end. Denver called timeout after Jokic missed a shot against Hernangomez and Eric Bledsoe hit a layup to draw New Orleans within four points. Jokic got two straight baskets after the timeout, but they couldn’t take advantage of another Ingram turnover on an over and back questionable call.
Both teams missed a couple field goal attempts before Jokic hit another tough shot inside, and MPJ battled into the paint for a tough shot from the free throw line. Jokic hit Hernangomez with a quick spin into a slow step at the rim, getting Wenyen Gabriel off his feet to get to the free throw line. Brandon Ingram made the Nuggets pay for a double team by hitting Hernangomez under the rim for a basket, but Jokic got his on the other end as the Pelicans just started throwing bodies at him to try to slow him down, which just kept putting him back on the free throw line. Austin Rivers lost the ball after turning his ankle, but it looked like just that. Jokic scored on the next possession, continuing to dominate this quarter for Denver. A 3-pointer from Jokic continued his MVP moment with a 3-pointer, his 16th point of the quarter. After Zion scored against Millsap, Millsap scored against Zion with a clean cut and pass from Jokic got him to the hoop. The Nuggets big guy checked out with just under a minute left, having put forth a tremendous effort over the first 11 minutes of the quarter. Jaxson Hayes scored the last basket of the quarter with an alley-oop off a dime from Naji Marshall, cutting their deficit just under double digits, and the Nuggets held a 87-78 lead after three.
Zion started the fourth quarter with a hoop inside, and the Nuggets first hoop came from MPJ, who had to labor his way into the key to roll in a shot from 10 feet. Naji Marshall got his second field goal of the game by correctly deciding to attack in transition, getting to the right side of the rim for a layup. Michael Malone called timeout after the Marshall basket, trying to buy more time for Jokic to rest while also trying to salvage some kind of offense from his team when his MVP center isn’t on the court. Gordon got whistled for his fifth foul on a questionable whistle trying to defend Zion on a drive through the paint, and the NBA league office darling made both his freebies afterwards. Austin Rivers missed another 3-pointer, still looking for his first basket, but Campazzo was able to hit his first 3-pointer of the game on the Nuggets next possession. A block by McGee helped spark a fastbreak for Campazzo and MPJ, with the latter scoring at the rim. McGee got another block, with the ball contacting Kira Lewis Jr. out of bounds to give Denver the ball back.
MPJ missed a couple field goal attempts, but caught a break after Williamson fell down and was able to cut to the rim for a basket against Lonzo Ball. He landed awkwardly, and Denver used a Pelicans timeout to give him some time to walk around and keep it from swelling up. The Nuggets forward looked pretty healthy a few possessions later, knocking in a deep 3-pointer to put Denver up by 13 points. The Pelicans made a small run, but the Nuggets ended it with Jokic passing out of a double team to Campazzo for a triple. Campazzo got open for another triple after Jokic buried Eric Bledsoe with a screen and PJ Dozier hit the Argentinian at the top of the arc. Jokic had a tough turnover, his fifth of the game, just under the two minute mark, and compounded it with a soft foul against Bledsoe as he went up for a layup. MPJ turned the ball over after a Lonzo Ball 3-pointer, coughing the ball up against the trap, and Ingram dunked over Jokic to cut the game to 110-106 with 38 seconds left. Campazzo hit a pair of big free throws, but Ingram answered with a 3-pointer. The Nuggets barely got the ball out against full-court pressure, but Jokic got the ball to Campazzo, who found MPJ for a dunk to put Denver up five. Campazzo knocked the ball away from Ingram on the next possession, but lost the ball to Zion, and Ingram wound up knocking in a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two points. The Pelicans stole the inbounds pass, and Zion Williamson had a good look at the rim, but Jokic blocked his shot to seal the win.
Star of the Game
Easy call tonight — Facu! He stepped up with key shots in the fourth quarter, while pestering the Pelicans guards with his defensive effort. He finished the game with 10 assists, but his persistence in attacking into the paint was a key factor tonight. Well played, Facu!