In the second In-Season Tournament game for both teams, the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Los Angeles Clippers in a clutch time affair. The Nuggets won 111-108, improving to 2-0 in In-Season Tournament play to lead West Group B.

Nikola Jokic, despite shooting just 8-of-23 from the field, put together another impressive performance with 30 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists, yet another Sombor Double to add to his collection. The Nuggets had a size advantage for much of the second half, and Jokic took advantage by commanding the attention of all Clippers at all times.

Late in the game, the Nuggets ran the same wedge screen action to get Jokic a post up every single time down the floor, and the Nuggets were able to generate great shots consistently. Reggie Jackson’s wide open layup to give the Nuggets a three-point lead with one minute to go proved essential in Denver’s victory.

“I think any time you play against your former team, it’s a little bit of an added motivation, so I’m sure Reggie had a little extra pep in his step,” Michael Malone made sure to mention postgame about Jackson. “He’s doing everything we need him to do.”

The Nuggets had to fight for this win. They changed their rotation around and played starters heavy minutes once again to get the job done. Jalen Pickett was inserted into the lineup in place of Collin Gillespie, and the 32nd overall pick of the 2023 Draft faired pretty well overall. Pickett had five points, two assists, and a steal in 17 minutes, though he closed out his second stint with two costly turnovers. It was his defense and willingness to battle in the post that caught my attention though, as Pickett was unmoved battling against the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook in those situations.

“This is a really hard team to debut against because they’ve got really good on-ball defender,” said Nikola Jokic about Pickett playing real minutes for the first time. “Maybe we needed to help him a little bit more, but I think overall, he did a good job. Yes, maybe he had a couple of turnovers, but I think he didn’t panic.”

Denver also went to heavier staggers with the second unit minutes, always playing two starters with the bench lineups outside of brief stretches when Jokic left the floor at the end of the first and third quarters. Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had high levels of defensive responsibility tonight. Gordon earned the DPOG chain for his work guarding Kawhi Leonard, while Caldwell-Pope improved defensively against Paul George as the game went on. Gordon even had a buzzer beating three at the end of the third-quarter that improved immensely important by the end.

Ultimately though, it always comes back to Jokic. Without the ability to go to Jokic in the post over and over, the Nuggets probably lose this game. Jokic’s shooting efficiency wasn’t ideal, but going 14-of-14 at the free throw line, especially in clutch moments, was extremely important.

“The way he works, just takes over the game physically but really mentally. It’s special,” Reggie Jackson shared about Nikola Jokic postgame. “The way he keeps everybody’s spirit calm, he really keeps our team-we have a great, confident group already, but his ability, his maturation, his understanding, it really keeps us levelheaded. Never too high, never too low. Constant communicator out there.”

“Like I said, I refuse to take it for granted.”

The Nuggets continue to find ways to win. They improved to 9-2 tonight as a team and are 7-0 at Ball Arena. This was another game where their defense shined in the clutch, as they continue to shut off the water for other teams down the stretch of games.

The Nuggets also improved to 2-0 in the tournament and are currently leading their group.

The Nuggets will face the Pelicans on Friday in their third tournament game, going on the road for a rematch in New Orleans. If the Nuggets find a way to win that game, they will be in great position to advance beyond their group, though the Houston Rockets haven’t lost yet and may prove to be a worthy challenger in the final In-Season Tourney group play matchup.

Still, it seems like most are taking these games seriously, and the Nuggets are putting together impressive performances against their group and could be in line for a trip to Las Vegas in December.

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