Nuggets survive near-collapse, MPJ injury scare vs. Pelicans for third win in a row – The Denver Post

For a brief moment, Ball Arena held its breath.

The sight of rising star Michael Porter Jr. lying near the baseline after a scary fourth-quarter fall would’ve been too much for a team that’s already endured too much. But the sigh of relief when Porter returned to help close a 114-112 win over the Pelicans was palpable.

What was a nine-point lead with under a minute left became far more precarious under a swell of Nuggets turnovers and Pelicans 3-pointers. But the Nuggets survived, nonetheless, when Nikola Jokic blocked Zion Williamson for a potential game-tying bucket with two seconds remaining.

“He went to dunk, and I was going hard just to not let him score,” Jokic said. “I was aiming for the ball, and I was going as hard as I can.”

After walking off his rolled ankle near the Nuggets bench, Porter stayed in the game, quickly snatched a defensive rebound and buried a 3-pointer just to assuage all lingering fears. Porter’s 28 points helped the Nuggets to their third consecutive win, improving their overall record to 41-21. The surging Nuggets will face the Raptors at home Thursday with only 10 regular-season games remaining.

“I’m all for being in a giving mood, but let’s not give this game away,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “In the last two minutes and forty seconds, we had six turnovers. Uncharacteristic turnovers.”

Amid a fourth-quarter that was frenetic and almost disastrous, Facundo Campazzo rained three 3-pointers and Jokic helped ice another impressive win. Campazzo added a career-high 19 points and 10 assists in 36 minutes. Jokic tallied 32 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and three blocks, including the one of Williamson, in another MVP-caliber performance.

Aaron Gordon had 10 points and five rebounds, but his defensive effort against Williamson was invaluable. Williamson managed just 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting. Williamson had two rebounds in 31 minutes.

The Nuggets’ defensive effort forced 21 turnovers, but it was the 18 of their own that nearly cost them the game.

Jokic authored a masterclass of basketball dominance in the third quarter. He worked inside and out, shredding reserve big Willy Hernangomez in the process. Jokic finished with 16 of the Nuggets’ 27 points in the third quarter, never letting New Orleans cut into Denver’s lead. If he wasn’t dominating with his back to the basket, then he was setting up his teammates, like Paul Millsap, for seamless looks.

The Nuggets entered the fourth quarter up 87-78 on the strength of Jokic and their incessant defense. Through three quarters, five players had at least two steals, including Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Shaq Harrison, Jokic and Millsap.

Entering Wednesday, the Nuggets were 6-1 since Jamal Murray suffered his torn ACL at Golden State.

“We’re a good team,” Malone said. “… If you thought we were just going to stop playing and quit because one player went down, well you haven’t been watching us for six years.”

Against Williamson, the Nuggets were prepared for his interior strength.

“They live in the paint,” Malone said. “… It’s not just on Aaron Gordon or Paul Millsap or whoever’s guarding Zion, it’s the other four guys have to help, have to shrink, have to show a crowd.”

Though Williamson managed 10 points in the first half, the Nuggets outscored New Orleans 34-22 in the paint.

The Pelicans, disrupted by pesky defenders and plucky hands, turned it over 15 times in an ugly first half. Campazzo, Rivers and Harrison were the primary irritants on defense, which forged a decided 17-6 advantage on fastbreak points.

Offensively, the Nuggets orbited around their three hubs – Jokic, Porter and Gordon. All three reached double-figures to give the Nuggets a 60-51 lead at the break.

Jokic kept the stronger Pelicans frontcourt off-balance with his usual dekes and soft touch. He even managed a reverse dunk en route to a game-high 15 points.

Not to be outdone, veteran Paul Millsap emerged off the bench and connected with Rivers on a rare, rim-rattling alley-oop.

Source: Read Full Article