The Denver Nuggets found themselves down big early against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night but mounted a huge comeback in the second half. Led by another triple-double from Nikola Jokic, Denver also got big contributions from Michael Porter Jr. and Julian Strawther. They outscored New Orleans 75-45 in the second half to complete the comeback. The Pelicans got twenty point or more nights out of their star duo of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, plus had the pleasant surprise of Jordan Hawkins stepping up in a bigger role but they ultimately didn’t have enough. New Orleans looked tired as the game wore on and Denver sensed blood in the water. Great team win as the Nuggets prevail 134-116

Porter started the game aggressive on offense and scored seven of Denver’s first nine points. Jokic chipped in as well to get Denver a small lead early. Both teams didn’t shoot the ball particularly well to start the game. Denver was just 1-8 from three in the first half of the quarter, while the Pelicans shot under 40% from the field. With about five minutes to go, Matt Ryan got hot for the Pelicans and hit back to back threes to cap a 10-2 run and put New Orleans in front. The Nuggets continued to struggle from three with the quarter winding down which kept New Orleans in the lead but the Nuggets tight defense didn’t let it grow. Jokic willed Denver along to close it out and after one they trailed 27-25.

The Nuggets opened the second with a lineup of the bench plus Aaron Gordon and they struggled to find rhythm on offense. New Orleans’ lead grew to double digits. Jokic checked back in with eight minutes left in the second quarter but the Pelicans found their shot from three point range and grew the lead behind Hawkins. With just over six minutes left it was all the way up to fifteen forcing Michael Malone to take a timeout. It didn’t help. Ingram was the next player to get hot from the field and knocked down a pair of midrange jumpers. The Nuggets offense seemed to be completely stagnant outside of Jokic. He sparked a mini-run on his own with a pair of threes and then found Strawther for a pair of threes as well. The Nuggets still trailed by thirteen but started to build some momentum behind their normal starting four plus Strawther. Zion fought back though which kept the lead from getting smaller. Jokic and Gordon ran a nice two-man game to get a bucket at the end of the half. After two quarters New Orleans led 71-59.

The Nuggets offense was slow once again to open the second half but grabbed some momentum when Gordon had a huge block and fed Porter for a three to bring New Orleans’ lead back to single digits. The Nuggets offense stalled after that but they didn’t let New Orleans grow the lead. Jokic started to lead the charge for Denver who found offense through their defense and hustle plays. Jokic finished a fast break with a jam and forced Willie Green to call timeout with Denver trailing by just three. The Pelicans went cold from the floor while Jokic went into full MVP mode. He finished an and-one while the Pelicans also got called for a flopping technical and Denver came all the way back to get a lead. Their defense was relentless with Nikola orchestrating on offense and getting everyone from Gordon and Porter to Christian Braun and Gillespie involved. He had a triple double with two minutes left in the third when he checked out of the game. The bench unit had better returns than in the first half. They kept pace with what was turning into a Zion show for New Orleans. First Colin Gillespie then Peyton Watson made contributions. It was a fantastic third quarter for Denver, outscoring the Pelicans 40-21 and taking a seven point lead.

Denver’s bench kept up the good play starting the fourth. Strawther took his turn providing the offense while Watson had some more highlights on defense and then Strawther went flat out supernova as the quarter progressed. He drove the lane with ease and finished with soft touch. He also caught fire from deep, swishing multiple threes. Denver grew their lead to thirteen and forced another New Orleans timeout. The Nuggets bench stagnated a bit after that which got the Pelicans on a run. Zion attacked the basket possession after possession to get the score back within seven. Malone brought back in the starters with half the quarter remaining. Porter paid immediate dividends on the glass and forcing the issue at the rim. He capped off a huge run with a ferocious alley-oop slam. That seemed to take what little energy the Pelicans had left and Denver’s starters were able to keep the lead above ten with the quarter winding down. Joker knocked a jumper down right in Jonas Valanciunas’ eye and it looked over. A couple more possessions that ended in Jokic manhandling Jonas or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope swishing a three was all she wrote. Denver comes all the way back and wins 134-116.

Best matchup: The less heralded guys vs the less heralded guys

Nov 6, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Hawkins (24) attempts a shot as Denver Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson (7) defends in the second quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Denver’s bench was outstanding tonight. They were lead by Strawther who had his official coming out party with twenty-one points, but Gillespie and Watson were huge as well. Those three guys combined for thirty-one points, six rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks. Watson was a +15 on the night. I don’t think those guys were high on Willie Green’s notes going into the game but they gave New Orleans everything they could handle. On the Pelicans side Hawkins, a rookie as well, had a coming out party of his own. Slotting into the starting lineup due to C.J. McCollum’s injury, Hawkins did his best C.J. impression knocking down sevens threes and scoring thirty-one points along with snagging seven rebounds. Meanwhile Matt Ryan also bombed away from three for New Orleans, going 4-6 and finishing with seventeen points.

Gillespie looks comfortable

Colin Gillespie got his first full game action tonight as Denver’s reserve point guard. He responded by doing just about everything you could ask. He ran the offense when needed, spaced the floor when he was on the court with Nikola, played tough defense and generated turnovers. Most importantly he looked like he belonged. Pregame Malone said that Murray’s injury was not going to be a one or two game injury so the Nuggets will be turning to Gillespie for regular minutes for at least a week, possibly more. After what was a strong showing in preseason it’s good to see Colin back it up in the regular season. As a second year player on a 2-way contract it’s a big year for Colin who no doubt wants to use this opportunity to help secure himself a fully guaranteed deal in the future.

Jokic over 1.5 threes pays

Jokic was firing at will from three in the first half, taking six attempts. That’s good news if you were betting the over on Joker threes like I recommended in the preview. He ended up hitting two of his six attempts in the first half and got us the money early. Ironically, he didn’t attempt a single three pointer in the second half. I’m going to continue to watch the Jokic threes line. He is taking 1.4 more attempts this season in comparison to last year and with Murray out I think he’ll continue to be a shooter even more often than we’re used to seeing.