The Denver Nuggets defeated the Indiana Pacers 117-119 behind a concerted effort from Denver’s starters on the night they gave Bruce Brown his championship ring. Three Nuggets had 25+ points for only the sixth time since 2011 according to Denver announcer Chris Marlowe, and that complete offensive performance was enough to defeat the Pacers, who were missing Tyrese Haliburton. Nikola Jokic missed just one shot to post 25 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists. MPJ had 7 made threes as well as 8 rebounds and 5 assists, Murray had 25 and 8, and Aaron Gordon added 20 points. Bruce Brown had a team-high18 points for the Pacers as well as 6 assists but their team effort could not match Denver’s. The two teams will get a rematch next week when Denver visits Indiana.

Game Recap

Bruce Brown received his ring from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to thunderous applause and chants of “Bruuuuce” and then was mobbed by his ex-teammates. And the the game started! Jamal Murray made Denver’s first two buckets, then had an assist on a tough Aaron Gordon finish through contact. Buddy Hield and Bruce Brown both made layups, but Murray ran the offense early and his pass to MPJ for a three made it 9-6 Denver. Hield hit another layup but Jokic had a dunk in transition to force a timeout from Indiana. Denver was active in transition early on both makes and misses by the Pacers, but a few Denver misses and Indiana finishes at the rim made it tied at 14 halfway through the quarter. The Jokic-to-AG dunk was automatic on back-to-back plays, but a few silly turnovers hurt Denver early. Jokic made a couple of paint buckets, then a nice assist to Reggie Jackson, but Indiana feasted at the rim to keep pace with Denver’s great shooting. Obi Toppin buried a three for Indiana though and the teams were tied at 28 after one.

Indiana started the second quarter scoring and Malone challenged the second foul of the game on Jamal Murray early. Denver won the challenge and then Mal buried a stepback jumper. DeAndre Jordan got called for a tech protesting a screening foul they called on him, his third, bringing Jokic back in early near the 10 minute mark for an immediate assist to Murray in the paint. It was a whistle-fest that slowed the game to a crawl and brought boos from the crown, but Jamal’s three tied the game back at 35. Porter hit a transition three assisted by Nikola Jokic to tie Wilson Chander for 7th all-time in Denver history, but was denied on a layup his next time down. The teams traded buckets but mostly the refs just blew whistle after whistle after whistle, and Jokic had to sit halfway through the quarter with 3 fouls also. Gordon had to play center, and hit a bank finish after MPJ’s third 3 of the half to give Denver the lead back 43-42. KCP hit a three of his own, then had a traditional 3 point play. Myles Turner got his third foul call, and Denver took a six point lead, but the Nuggets struggled to get defensive rebounds and kept the Pacers close. MPJ hit another three as Reggie Jackson and Jamal Murray handled the playmaking, but Bruce Brown kept showing this was his building at one time too and his buzzer-beating layup over Jamal cut Denver’s lead to just 60-57 at the half.

Buddy Hield made the first two buckets after halftime for Indiana, answered by Jokic with one, but Indiana kept getting the offensive rebounds that killed Denver in the first half. Gordon and MPJ both made buckets but Hield was on a heater early and it took a Jokic under-the-basket finish and a great Jokic-assisted MPJ bucket to tie it at 71. KCP hit a three, answered by Jalen Smith, and MPJ rattled in a three of his own for a 6 point Denver lead. MPJ caused a Jokic turnover, but Nikola’s bucket the next time down and his followup paint bucket assisted by MPJ made up for it to put Denver up 85-77. Indiana made a couple of paint buckets and a Mathurin three, but Murray answered with a full drive to a scoop finish, and Denver finished up 89-84.

Murray directed the bench production to start the fourth and had two tough paint finishes in traffic. Ben Mathurin was one-man scoring machine for Indiana. Christian Braun finished a drive of his own but then DeAndre Jordan got thrown out for complaining about a screening foul and Jokic had to come back early. Jokic orchestrated a couple of buckets but then AG got called for a foul on a Murray bucket that Malone had to challenge. It was successful and put Denver up 99-91, before Bruce hurt Denver again inside. Porter buried a three off a Jokic assist then returned the passing favor on a Jokic finish to put Denver up 9. Mike hit his seventh 3, Jokic put back a Murray miss and Denver’s lead ballooned to 109-97. Aaron Gordon tipped in a missed Jokic free-throw, Murray hit a baseline jumper, and Denver took the win 117-109.

Final Thoughts:

That’s two team-wide performances in a row. The Nuggets struggled with turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds to the Pacers, but Denver had good energy and effort from the jump and sustained it for all four quarters. The strange whistle could have stolen their flow but Denver kept their focus despite the Jordan ejection and the game never really felt in jeopardy. The Utah performance was a low, but it seems to have galvanized the Nuggets to keep doing the things they need to do. The last two games haven’t been perfect, but they have shown that Denver basketball is more about the effort than the perfection – this team is plenty talented enough to win on nights they don’t do everything perfectly. Keeping that mentality on this upcoming road trip will be key.