The Denver Nuggets withstood a battle from the New Orleans Pelicans, including a career-high 39 from Zion Williamson, and took victory over New Orleans 113-108. Williamson added 10 rebounds and 5 assists to his monster line, but the Nuggets responded with 37/6/9 from Jokic, an effort of 23 points and 11 assists from Murray and 25 points and 5 rebounds from Michael Porter Jr. The Big Three Denver were enough to beat Sion and the Pelicans’ fierce effort, just barely. But on a night that had to be filled with excitement after the Gary Harris, RJ Hampton and Isaiah Hartenstein exchanges, it was enough.
Jamal Murray landed a backstep jump and Paul Millsap was blocked by Zion Williamson, but he took the detour and repositioned it for Denver. The Pelicans responded with a Steven Adams paint finish and a Zion three. Turnovers for Denver came early, leading the Pelicans to an early 10-4 lead. Jokic put in a runner, but Millsap had trouble early keeping Zion away from anywhere he wanted. Zion slammed into another dunk, Barton had another fumble and Brandon Ingram’s three made it 17-8.
Ingram and Michael Porter Jr. traded baskets, 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 float, MPJ hit a three with the clock about to run, and the Nuggets rallied on Murray’s three, making the deficit just 4. Denver hit a pair of free throws and stopped New. Orleans with a Zone, and Nnaji tied it to 26 with one minute to go. Zion received an assist and then a Y-1 finish, and New Orleans finished with a 7-0 run and a 33-26 lead after 1.
Zion opened the second quarter with another shot at the rim, while Murray couldn’t finish at the other end. Eric Bledsoe hit another three, while Denver missed 10 of 11, with the only mark coming from Zeke Nnaji. A Murray rotation led to another bucket from Zion and a 14-point lead for New Orleans. Jokic had to come back very early, just 2 minutes into the quarter, as the bench was terrible. Will Barton finally got to drop a corner three, 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 the 10. However, every time the Nuggets seemed to return to a two-touchdown game, the Pelicans hit another 3. Jokic responded with one of his own to make it 53-44 for the Pelicans with just over 3 minutes to go. Millsap finished with an And-1, Porter hit a 3 curl, Jokic missed on his own fault, but again the Pelicans just couldn’t miss and got 3 free throws on a poor decision to end the half up 63-54.
Jokic and Zion traded buckets to start the half, then Zion grabbed Paul Millsap’s pocket for another bucket. MPJ responded with a three, then Murray’s paint pot made the 10 deficit again for Denver. Millsap took a charge from Zion, Jokic hit a hook and then hit a long 2 after forcing a rotation from Ingram. MPJ buried three more in Ingram’s face to bring him down to 3, but Zion’s dunk kept the lead for New Orleans. The Pels hit a pair of baskets, but a block from Barton brought Millsap to three to reduce it to a one-possession game. However, Denver continued to give up paint points at New Orleans cuts and was unable to regain the lead. Jokic blocked Bledsoe and Murray hit a 3 that finally ended the game at 80 with just over 3 minutes left in the quarter.
Jokic buried 3 more when the Pelicans finally started to come up short, then fed MPJ for a dunk. Zion challenged Jokic and won by a layup, then finished again. A rotation from Murray to Jokic allowed the Pelicans to regain the lead to end the fourth with an 86-85 lead.
Millsap started the final frame with a cleanup dunk following an MPJ failure. JaMychal Green missed a pair of 3s at the top of the key, while Josh Hart made his 3-pointer for the Pelicans. Dozier missed a three and was then blocked one-on-three when the bench seemed to forget MPJ was there. Millsap blocked a three, the Nuggets smashed a fast break and both Jokic Murray had to return. Murray missed a shot to the bench, but Jokic fell back to Zion to cut New Orleans’ lead to 6. New Orleans hit a 3, then Hart’s free kicks made the Pelicans go 100-89.
Jokic and Dozier hit pots of paint to bring it down to 7, and then Murray stole the ball and landed a traditional three-point play. A Murray free throw capped a Nuggets 7-0 run, but a terrible fumble from Jokic in the paint led to a layup from Zion at the other end. MPJ came back and Millsap immediately fed him for a 3 to make it a one possession game again. Millsap then waved his own three for the 102-102 tie. Zion hit a pair of free throws, Jokic buried 3 more, but Zion scored on Jokic. Millsap ended up in the paint, but Zion kept demolishing Denver in the paint, doing what he wanted. Jokic landed a couple of paint finishes to give Denver a 3-point lead with a minute to go. Millsap took a crucial rebound on a missed Ingram 3, Jokic missed a jump shot, and Barton’s key block on a three left Denver still up with just seconds to go. The Nuggets forced the 24-second violation and finished the game at the free throw line, 113-108.
- I’m glad Denver has their great winger in Aaron Gordon. I wish we could have seen him tonight at Zion Williamson, because Zion absolutely decimated both Millsap and JaMychal Green in the first half with 19 points on just 8 shots. He continued on his way into the second half, passing Porter and Jokic and collecting Millsap’s pocket for a personal record. Denver needs a defender with the same motor and athleticism, and Gordon has it. I hope to see him in the Denver uniform on Sunday. The Nuggets need him if they want to rise to the top of the West.
- Denver’s depression eventually ended with a narrow victory, but they need new solutions to old problems. The bank was hideously awful tonight, and it obviously misses Monte Morris and his steadfast leadership. MPJ’s staying in the game to start the fourth quarter and then not being fed by any of the bench players was a serious problem that put Denver behind the 8 ball and forced a few extra minutes for Jokic and Murray. The Denver Big Three finished with more than 39 minutes against a team battling for 10th place in the West. Denver has to get its bench production to ease the burden on its stars, and that process also begins Sunday with some roster changes. A return from Monte Morris soon wouldn’t be bad either.
- Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. The New Look Nuggets start Sunday. Do not miss it.