It took a herculean effort from everybody involved, but the Denver Nuggets somehow eked out a 122-119 win against the Indiana Pacers.

Nikola Jokić faced foul trouble for much of the game, committing two fouls in the first quarter, his third and fourth a minute into his second quarter rotation, and his fifth foul a minute into the third quarter. As a result, the Nuggets were scrambling for much of the game to find alternatives that were sustainable. No one player really stepped up as a scorer, but it took a collective effort to survive without Jokić until the 9:03 mark in the fourth quarter.

When Jokić returned, he shifted into fifth gear, scoring 11 of his 24 points in the final nine minutes of the game to push the Nuggets across the finish line.

Here are the primary takeaways from tonight’s matchup between the Nuggets and the Pacers:

Resiliency is back in fashion

This is a game the Nuggets would have lost last season. The urge to quit at various points in the second and third quarter had to be strong with Jokić sidelined and things certainly not going Denver’s way. The Pacers outscored Denver 43-21 in the second quarter, and in past years, Denver would have phoned it in.

This year, things do feel different. DeAndre Jordan entered for Jokić in the second half and played some strong defense. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started gunning from three and kept the Nuggets close. Denver found a way to get some stops at key moments in the fourth quarter. That allowed time to get Jokić and Murray back in, and at that point, it’s easy to trust in Denver’s clutch offense with those two on the court.

It shows some serious gall to be able to withstand the litany of factors working against the Nuggets tonight, but they stayed the course and got a road win.

Bench still has major questions

The Nuggets went with a nine-man rotation tonight, losing Christian Braun to the bench and staggering Michael Porter Jr. with the second unit. Things did not go well in those minutes to end the first and begin the second quarter. Bones Hyland appeared overwhelmed by the ball pressure of TJ McConnell at times, and his finishing around the rim continues to be a weakness. When he struggles, the rest of the unit struggles, and that bore out in the plus-minus numbers.

However, the Nuggets played some good basketball in the second half with Jokić sidelined. Aaron Gordon staggered along with Porter next to Jeff Green at center (DeAndre Jordan played 11 third quarter minutes). That group along with Bones and Bruce Brown found some success switching everything, keeping Denver in the game.

Overall, it’s hard to grade the bench due to such a weird rotation, but the first half was rough, and that’s most representative of what the Nuggets will see going forward. With the Boston Celtics coming up next, the Nuggets have to find a way to be better on the second unit.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon save the Nuggets

When Jokić exited with his fourth foul in the second quarter, Aaron Gordon gave the Nuggets a major lift. He took a questionable shot or two, but the majority of his game was spent in overdrive as a hardworking, hard-nosed forward. He grabbed 16 rebounds in 34 minutes, dished out 6 assists, and finished with 18 points on just eight shots. He had been struggling at the free throw line for much of the season, but he came through with 7-of-9 makes tonight. The Nuggets don’t win this game without AG.

In addition, KCP deserves a massive amount of credit. He locked in on both ends of the floor, hitting basically three three-pointers in a row in the third quarter to keep the Nuggets within striking distance. He also upped his defensive pressure on the trio of Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, and Buddy Hield. All three were killing Denver, but KCP helped slow them down at key points to keep the game close.

The Nuggets 3&D wing finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, hitting 3/4 from 3 and saving Denver’s bacon.

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