An energy shift and explosive 4th quarter help Nuggets crush Pacers

Mar 4, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball while Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11) defends in the fourth quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a poor performance at home against the Mavericks on Saturday, the Nuggets bounced back in a big way to beat the Pacers 121-106. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that they started taking action as they went off on a 20-2 run. 

It has been a wild ride so far this season but the Nuggets continue to show us what they’re made of despite all the challenges they’ve encountered. From different lineups almost every night and a condensed schedule, they don’t make any excuses. They just find ways to win. 

“When we rebound, we win games,” Malone said. “We won the rebounding battle by 15 tonight. And the second most important stat against that team, they’re one of the league leaders in steals per game. 32 assists and only 10 turnovers is going to allow you to stay in the games even when you’re not playing well.”

Third quarters still need room for improvement as Indiana outscored Denver 35-22. Instead of folding, however, the Nuggets second unit set the defensive tone they needed to close the game out. 

“Well, simply stated, our defense in the third quarter was a joke,” Michael Malone said honestly. “And if we had any chance of coming back and winning we were going to have to play a lot better defense.”

The Nuggets went up by as many as 20 points with 5 minutes left to go in the second quarter but saw that lead slowly fade away as the Pacers got within 5 

Then the third quarter rolled around and the Pacers put up 35 points on 64 percent shooting to take a 5 point lead, forcing Malone to make some changes. He decided to replace his starters in the fourth quarter for his second unit to get an energy boost. JaMychal Green was back for his second game after missing almost a month and made a huge impact off the bench. He scored 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting from the field and 4 of 6 shooting from long range. 

But that was not without the help of Facu Campazzo whose playmaking abilities continue to flourish. Although he went scoreless, he dished out six assists, grabbed 3 rebounds, had two steals and was a real nuisance on the defensive end of the floor. 

“He’s definitely a glue guy,” Green said. “He will do whatever it takes to win. 

As soon as the bench got Denver within reach, Malone put his starters back in to finish it off. That’s when Nikola Jokić hit three consecutive baskets to seal the deal. Jokić registered another double-double, making that his 35th one of the season, with 32 points and 14 rebounds. 

Jamal Murray, who was struggling the past two games, found his rhythm and had a well rounded game shooting 16 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing 8 assists. Malone had a very simple message for him prior to the game and he responded. 

“My message to Jamal was really simple, shots are going to go in and shots you’re going to miss at times,” Malone said. “But the thing that can never waiver is your commitment to defense, your commitment to rebounding and your commitment to making plays for your teammates.” 

Murray admitted to not being ready for those two games right after the break. He didn’t touch a basketball for almost a full week and needed time away from the game to rejuvenate.

“I didn’t touch the ball for the break,” Murray said. “I just didn’t want to touch the ball for the break and I came back the first few games and I wasn’t ready to play and I’ve had to get my groove back.”

Murray credits Tim Connelly, president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets, for staying on him during these difficult stretches to remind him of the importance of having a routine and establishing good habits even during the break. Prior to tipoff against Indiana, Murray shared his routine of lifting early, showing up on time for shoot around, and taking off his headphones to interact more with his teammates. He knew that a slight energy shift would change the whole mood going into this game and he was right. 

Will Barton scored 20 points on 6 of 16 from the field 6 of 7 from three, which marks three consecutive 20-point games for the 9-year veteran. He also put up 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Michael Porter Jr. has also shown consistency with 20 points and 8 rebounds, marking the fourth straight game shooting 20 plus points. 

When this roster is healthy and playing together, they’re deadly. Don’t let the 23-16 record fool you. They’re much better than that. So much so that Murray doesn’t think the Nuggets need any more pieces heading into the trade deadline. 

“I’d be crazy if I didn’t,” Murray said when asked if he agreed with Green saying the Nuggets had everything they need heading into the trade deadline. “I believe every year we have everything we need. That’s just how we play and how we believe in each other.” 

The Nuggets play three more home games and face the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. 

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