Good, Bad & Ugly: Jokic’s second-straight game winner saves Nuggets in Minnesota

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) reacts after getting called for a foul in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
Nov 10, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) reacts after getting called for a foul in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

After a troubling start to the 2019-20 season, the Denver Nuggets seemed to rediscover their swagger in a miraculous comeback win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Nuggets trailed by 19 points heading to the fourth quarter, but they managed to find a way to close the gap enough for Nikola Jokic to hit a game-winning jumper with just over a second left on the clock

Now, the Nuggets have to sustain that urgency and aggression and make it a constant.

The next challenge for the Nuggets and their battle for consistency manifested in an afternoon matchup in Minnesota against the Timberwolves on Sunday.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets somehow found a way to steal a 100-98 victory on the road against a division foe despite less than ideal circumstances.

With that being said, here are the good, bad, and ugly from the Nuggets seventh win of the year.

Good – Nikola Jokic his his second-straight game-winning jumper

It is easy to overlook Nikola Jokic as one of the most dominant players in the NBA because he is such a unique player. He is not an explosive dunker, an unconscious three-point shooter, or a lockdown isolation defender.

He may not be any of those things, but no matter what, he is steady, level-headed, and always makes the right play. Those are just three of the traits that have allowed him to grow into one of the most clutch players in the entirety of the National Basketball Association over the past two years.

That is why, when the game was on the line, Will Barton III gave the ball up to Jokic with the shot clock running down so he can hit his second game-winning jumper in as many games.

Statistically speaking, Jokic is one of the premier closers in the NBA. This season, the Nuggets are 6-1 in clutch games, which are defined as games that are decided by five points or less, and Jokic as an individual has been the main reason for their success.

During clutch situations — defined as games within five points or less with five minutes or less remaining — Jokic has the second-most made baskets in the NBA with 12 and sits just two made shots behind Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets. He has played 29 minutes worth of “clutch” basketball and has 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. He is posting an offensive rating of 115.1, a defensive rating of 92.3, and a +22.8 net rating. He is shooting 60% from the field, is 2-2 on 3-pointers and has played some fantastic defense as well.

Yes, that is a small sample size, but he was just as good in the 2018-19 season.

Last season, Jokic logged 138 minutes in clutch moments and led the Nuggets to the best record in clutch gems in the NBA by going 31-13. In those 138 minutes, Jokic had a 113.8 offensive rating, 90.3 defensive rating which equals out to a +23.5 net rating.

At this point, Jokic has to be recognized as one of the best clutch performers in the NBA.

Bad – Nuggets near collapse

It is easy to forget the Nuggets epic fourth-quarter collapse because of Jokic’s heroics, but when looking back on the Nuggets final six-plus minutes of regulation, the numbers are staggering.

Denver entered the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead which expanded to has many as 16 points once Gary Harris hit a 3-pointer with 6:43 left in regulation. Then the unthinkable happened.

Denver failed to score a single point from that moment until regulation ended while allowing the Timberwolves to burst out to a 16-0 run to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Nuggets were imploding and no end seemed to be in sight.

Then overtime arrived and the Nuggets proceeded to go another 80 seconds without a point which brought the Nuggets scoreless streak up to an insane 8:03 of playing time.

Somehow, despite that disastrous collapse, the Nuggets found themselves down by only two points in the overtime period. That is when Barton III and Jokic went to work as they carried the Nuggets to a 100-98 overtime win over the Timberwolves.

Yes, the win was impressive, but their lack of scoring to end the game was one of the strangest eight minutes of Nuggets basketball in recent memory.

Ugly – Jamal Murray leaves game, Beasley never returns 

Ever since the Denver Nuggets lost to the (at the time) winless New Orleans Pelicans, Jamal Murray has put the responsibility of getting this Nuggets team back on track on his own shoulders.

Since that night, Murray has scored at least 20 points in all three of those games and he has stepped up as the leader the Nuggets need.

Murray’s performance against the Timberwolves was no different as he came out of the gates blistering hot. He hit his first five shots en route to a 15 point first quarter. He hit three 3-pointers and was able to knock down six of his nine shot attempts.

Then disaster began to hit.

Murray’s play fell off in the second quarter, but he came back in the second half looking to steal back the lead and end the game early. Instead, Murray ended up sustaining some kind of left foot injury that led to him going back to the locker room for most of the third period.

Murray returned to the game at the halfway point of the third quarter, but was unable to stay on the floor as his foot issue looked to be hurting his play on the court. At one point, Murray had a pretty clear baseline drive and finish ahead of him, but he could not muster the bounce to be able to finish the play. Once Malone watched that possession play out, he elected to remove Murray from the game.

Somehow, Murray convinced Malone to give him one last chance to play in the fourth quarter, but he was unable to produce like he did prior to the injury. Murray did finish the game, but he ended up shooting just 6-19 from the field after shooting 6-9 in the first quarter.

In the final three quarters of play, Murray had zero points on 0-10 shooting and six turnovers. Clearly, his foot was bothering him to some extent.

Murray did say he was ok after the game and seemed in high spirits when being interviewed by the media, but Murray is as tough as they come. He will always say he is ok unless the team doctors force him to rest and heal.

For now, all that is known is that Murray is dealing with left foot soreness and that he said he was ok, but when watching his play in the second half, it was clear that he was a much lesser version of himself.

Additionally, Malik Beasley only played four first-half minutes and was only able to grab two rebounds and turned the ball over once. After those four minutes Beasley was removed from the game and was later said to be dealing with an illness. He did not return.

For the Nuggets, winning a division game on the road is already a good win, but with an ailing Murray, Jokic dealing with foul trouble, and only four minutes of Beasley’s production this Nuggets win was downright impressive.

Now the question becomes more about how healthy the Nuggets will be moving forward. At the time of this writing, there is no new information about either Murray or Beasley so only time will tell.