The Denver Nuggets finished off the game Charlotte Hornets 102-95 behind a 30-9 third quarter and finished their road trip a perfect 3-0 in four nights. Nikola Jokic had a Sombor Double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists before fouling out in the final minute of the game. Jamal Murray had 20 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists, and Michael Porter Jr. added 22 points to lead Denver in scoring. The bench led Charlotte’s attack, with 20 points from PJ Washington and 19 from Nick Smith Jr, but Charlotte only making two shots in the entire third quarter doomed them against the defending champs.

Game Recap

Charlotte scored the first four buckets as the Nuggets came out a little unsettled and slow, and got blocked a couple of times before Jamal Murray finally hit a layup. MPJ missed a three, Richards made a couple of free throws for the Hornets, Aaron Gordon’s one-on-four transition got blocked and turned into Charlotte points for a 12-2 Hornets lead. After a timeout, AG hit a rim finish but Gordon Hayward matched it on the other end, and Jokic was blocked by Richards. Murray hit a three to make it 14-9 but AG got blocked again and Denver’s refusal to play defense kept hurting them on the other end. Gordon finally got a shot to drop and got a traditional three-point play, Jokic drew a double-team and kicked it out for a Porter three and Denver closed it to 16-15. MPJ nailed another three, then finished a broken play with an oop from Jokic to get Denver its first lead.

DJ Washington hit a three for Charlotte, Reggie Jackson missed a Denver layup, but Jokic finished one in the paint for his first bucket. Julian Strawther hit a three as the bench came in, but the reserves coudn’t hold the lead and trailed after one 27-25.

Strawther hit another three to open the second quarter, and then Christian Braun drove the hoop for a traditional three-point play. Charlotte hit some free throws and a layup to tie it at 31, but then Braun hit a three. Washington kept scoring for the Hornets, but Denver managed to keep a 1 point lead when Jokic came back in at the 8 minute mark. Braun blew a fastbreak, and the Nuggets kept playing sloppy basketball (12 turnovers in the first half) kept Charlotte neck-and-neck with Denver. Murray and Jokic had back-to-back buckets to tie it again at 44, and Porter hit a stepback to keep Denver’s offensive groove going. Richards forced a couple of buckets in over and around Jokic, sandwiched around a 30-foot three pointer from MPJ. General trash bag Miles Bridges hit a pair of dunks for a 54-50 Charlotte advantage, followed by a Gordon Hayward transition dunk. Jamal Murray got blocked, but AG finally stopped a 10-0 Charlotte run with a dunk. Jokic finished a transition bucket off the backboard, but Murray missed the bucket at the buzzer and Denver trailed Charlotte 60-54 at the half.

Denver and Charlotte traded blocks to start the second half, and Denver missed some easy shots before Jokic got the first basket of the half for the Nuggets. Denver didn’t start off efficiently but they were playing harder, especially on defense, and an AG tip-in off an MPJ miss put them up 63-60 with a 9-0 run. MPJ’s tough finish and Murray’s fastbreak kept the run going, and Gordon’s finish made it a 15-0 run to force another timeout with better ball movement and finishing. Murray then finished another layup in the paint, hitting them inside in the third quarter repeatedly, and MPJ’s transition bucket made it a 76-61 lead. KCP hit a three for his first bucket, then Peyton Watson forced a jump ball. Strawther hit a layup to answer Charlotte’s first made bucket of the quarter, and Denver’s 25-1 run in the quarter gave them an 84-69 lead heading to the fourth.

Reggie Jackson made Denver’s first bucket of the final frame, as their defense kept the starter’s hustle from the previous quarter. The bench offense struggled though, but Strawther’s follow on Christian Braun’s blocked transition layup helped. Braun also hit a three pointer, but Charlotte closed to 91-79 as Jamal Murray came back in the game for the struggling Jackson. Jokic hit an easy bucket as he joined Murray and three bench players, and Murray grabbed his tenth rebound with seven minutes to go. Those reserves missed a couple shots and had a turnover from Strawther, but the lack of familiarity with that unit was apparent as the Nuggets lead was cut to five after some three pointers from the Hornets at 93-88. Gordon made a pair of free throws but Nick Smith made another three pointer. Smith was red-hot and the Nuggets were cold, and Jokic got his fifth foul on a poor call but then finished the next time down for 99-94. Jokic and MPJ made free throws to ice the game and Denver finished its road trip a perfect 3-0, winning this game 102-95.

Final Thoughts

– Denver found its championship spirit just in time. The game went as expected. The Nuggets started slow after playing last night – landing in Charlotte at 2 AM – and having a big Christmas Day game up next, but they came out of halftime on fire and put up a 25-1 run to take control of the game. The starters struggled with defense in the fourth as they ran out of gas a bit, but still finished when it mattered and completed the hard-fought victory. These are the important games, and road trips, when it comes to locking down home court in the West. Beating the teams you should beat matters, and the Nuggets took care of business when it mattered.

Have a safe holidays everyone, and enjoy the Nuggets game on Christmas Day.