The Denver Nuggets defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-105 in an epic matchup between centers.

Nikola Jokic led the way for the Nuggets with 42 points, shooting 18-of-32 from the field. Jokic added 16 rebounds, six assists, one steal, and two blocks in nearly 38 minutes, helping the Nuggets squeak by a San Antonio Spurs squad fighting for pride. Jokic was absolutely dominant, putting the Nuggets on his back in this one with Denver struggling to hit jumpers for most of the evening.

Jokic matched up consistently with Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama, who proved exactly what the hype was all about once again. Wemby wasn’t the most efficient scorer, but his rim protection was absolutely tremendous. Wembanyama nearly notched a quadruple-double in his 34 minutes with 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists, and nine blocks, an incredible number. The Spurs rookie changed even more shots than he blocked and made attacking the rim a difficult proposition for the Nuggets.

“He’s the future of the NBA,” Michael Malone said of Wembanyama. “We’re watching the ascension of the next great player in the NBA.”

 Aaron Gordon made sure to emphasize the same. “He’s going to be really, really, really, really, really, really good.”

The Nuggets weren’t as sharp as they needed to be, and it nearly caught them tonight. Denver’s transition defense and defensive rebounding left a lot to be desired. When the Nuggets set their defense and allowed just one shot attempt, they were strong, but that took until the fourth quarter when the Nuggets allowed just 20 points on 27% from the field.

Denver took advantage, but the Spurs were hanging around with some empty offensive possessions from Denver. Then, late in the game, about 30 seconds to go with the score tied, Christian Braun attacked the rim and drew attention from several defenders, including Wembanyama, under the basket. Braun kicked the ball out to Michael Porter Jr. for a clutch open three-pointer, one of Porter’s three makes on the evening, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

 “Big play, obviously,” Malone stated. “It seems like you expect Michael Porter to make every shot. Obviously, he didn’t have the greatest shooting night, but sometimes it’s not about what you shot. It’s when you hit the shot.”

Malone also also very complimentary of Christian Braun for making that pass under pressure. Even though Braun isn’t a point guard, he finished with seven assists tonight and filled in admirably for Jamal Murray.

“Him playing downhill attacking, and now reading to your point, oh they collapsed on me? They’ve got shot blockers? That means someone’s open, and that’s drive-and-kick basketball.”

The Nuggets also got a great, great game from Aaron Gordon, who had 23 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Gordon switched onto Wemby in the second half (Jokic guarded him in the first half) and guarded him about as well as can be expected. Gordon’s an unsung hero for the Nuggets, and it’s his ability to scale up the defensive intensity and switch 1 thru 5 that really impacts the team defense in a positive way, especially when Jokic is off the floor.

Gordon went down hard early in the fourth quarter, landing directly on his right hip after a midair collision with Spurs rookie Cidy Sissoko. Nuggets fans held their breath collectively for a few seconds before Gordon got up and stayed in the game.

“He’s a really big part of our culture, our identity,” Nikola Jokic credited Gordon postgame. “I always say that the guy who is guarding the best player, whether it’s a small guard, or a shooter, or big man or whatever, he’s there to answer the call. I want to say 80% of the nights, he’s doing a really good job, and tonight, he scored a lot.”

Gordon has consistently accepted his Nuggets role, and the Nuggets know what he’s sacrificing scoring while being in Denver.

“I always talk to him: some nights you’re going to score eight, and some nights you’re going to score 25 or whatever, and I think he understands,” Jokic shared. “I think that’s the best thing about him.”

In the end, it was Jokic though. His shotmaking and steady hand to end the game was essential for the Nuggets. 42 points is a great number, and he did it when the Nuggets really struggled. It was a big time performance from the Joker.

The Nuggets moved back into first place, technically, with a win and an Oklahoma City Thunder loss. As mentioned in today’s earlier article, I expect the Nuggets to get the third seed in the Western Conference when it’s all said and done. Still, a Thunder loss helps Denver out, and all three teams at the top (Nuggets, Thunder, and Minnesota Timberwolves) are tied with 23 losses.

Denver has six games to go, while the Thunder and Timberwolves each have seven, and those teams have tiebreaker. For that reason, the Nuggets have little to no flexibility in their final six games of the season if they want to earn the top spot in the West. The Nuggets have an easier schedule than either of the other two teams though so they have that one advantage.

If it were up to Nikola Jokic, he would play every game for the rest of the regular season.

“Of course stay healthy, but I think I’m going to play every game until the end to stay in a rhythm,” Jokic shared when asked about Denver’s final six games. “If I feel a little bit off…my goal is to play every game, and that’s my mindset, but if something happens, I will let you guys know.”

Final Rotations