The Denver Nuggets are fresh off a game in which they beat the Dallas Mavericks 100-99 on a last second buzzer beater by Nikola Jokic which further bolstered them into the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference standings heading closer to Denver’s first playoff appearance in five years.
On Saturday evening, Denver welcomed in the Indiana Pacers who are also coming off of a thrilling finish of their own as Wesley Matthews got a tip-in with 1.8 seconds left on the clock to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and get the Pacers to 44 wins on the season showcasing that they are a team more than capable even without All-Star guard Victor Oladipo.
Both of the NBA’s most surprising teams of the year went after it in a game that came down to the final buzzer but in the end, it was the Nuggets that prevailed with the 102-100 victory and with that I give you the good, the bad and the ugly.
Good – Nikola Jokic shines in the first
If it were not for Jokic’s late game heroics against the Mavericks one of the biggest takeaways from last game would have been how passive Jokic was. He impacted the game in multiple ways as he finished with 14 points and eight assists but he did not record his first field goal in the game until the fourth quarter.
He turned down shots, was not aggressive offensively and looked to be fatigued for much of the game.
How did he follow up his slow night? With one of the best offensive performances in a quarter of the season which proved to turn things around for the Nuggets and give them enough momentum to secure the victory.
Against one of the best defending front courts in the entire NBA Jokic was much more assertive.
“When Nikola plays aggressive he is a different type of a player,” said Malone.
He started out the game in a groove and that led to him having 16 points in the first quarter alone.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) March 17, 2019
Jokic was able to carry the scoring load for the Nuggets early in the game as Denver went into the second quarter down by 11 points but his teammates started to get involved and his play put Denver in the position to rally.
Jokic picked up where he left off with a big second half that seen him hit some big shots at critical times and anchor the Nuggets to victory. Jokic was ejected late in the game and finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists but if it were not for him putting the team on his back they would not have been able to fight back in the game and eventually win.
Bad – First quarter struggles
Luckily for Denver they are able to turn things around and quickly because the way that they began the game looked as if they were about to be on the wrong end of a blowout.
The Pacers came out and absolutely brought it to the Nuggets as they imposed their will early on in the game. Indiana executed well on offense as they got into their sets, forced the switch and attacked which led Malone to say this about his first half play.
“They came out they were on fire, they did not feel us and they were hitting everything give them credit and then after that we settled down, kind of got our defense in the game made some adjustment on the pick and rolls and changed some of the matchups how we were guarding things and guys owned it.”
The second quarter is where things turned around for Denver as they got a spark that they desperately needed. Both Jokic (18 points) and Barton (16 points) helped ignite the Nuggets as Denver was able to pull off a 15-2 run in the second quarter to cut into what was once an 18-point lead and go into the halftime intermission down by only three points.
From there Denver was able to get back into their flow and resemble the team that they have been all season long.
Denver needs to get back to starting games off strong so that they are in the driver’s seat for the full game instead of playing from behind.
Ugly – Jokic gets ejected
With 2:56 left in the game Jokic was ejected after being assessed two technical fouls by referee Tony Brothers
Jokic was furious with the foul call and let Brothers hear it which led to this ejection.
Nikola Jokic in a 102-100 win vs. the Pacers : 26 points on 11-21 shooting, 7 rebounds & 5 assists in 34 minutes (Got ejected with 2:56 left in the game after getting 2 quick technical fouls) pic.twitter.com/D9ttV0nEzk
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life25) March 17, 2019
The crowd was not happy with his decision as “ref you suck” chants pierced the Pepsi Center walls in support of their All-Star big man.
Denver rallied without Jokic and escaped with a two-point victory on a late game Paul Millsap finish. After the game Malone spoke to reporters and denied to comment on the ejection as he wanted to save his money. He did however say that he has to review the film and see what it was that went wrong and he is sure that whatever it is that Jokic said was worthy of the ejection.