They needed a Nikola Jokić buzzer-beater, but the Denver Nuggets did just enough to defeat the Orlando Magic 119-116 at home.

Jamal Murray handled the ball in the closing seconds with the game tied, drawing two defenders and passing to Jokić with about five seconds left. Joker calmly caught the ball and faced up, then stepped back to drain a three-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining. His reaction: run back on defense. Everyone else: pandemonium.

Jokić finished the game with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists, playing the role of facilitator for much of the evening. He attempted just one shot in the fourth quarter, and it turned out to be a big one.

Aaron Gordon led all scorers tonight with 25 points. He had a great all-around game, though he struggled at the free throw line for most of the evening. He was 3-of-9 from the stripe before stepping up to take two free throws with the Nuggets down one with 16 seconds remaining. Gordon hit both of them in the pressure cooker. Then, Markelle Fultz went 1-of-2 at the line before Joker’s game-winner.

Jamal Murray struggled shooting from the field tonight, going 6-of-17 and 3-of-10 from three-point range. He added seven assists but committed four turnovers in the process, struggling with the blitzing coverage and the length of the Magic defenders. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. each had important plays, including a fourth quarter pull-up three in transition from KCP with about 90 seconds left to go to cut Denver’s deficit to one.

Overall, it wasn’t Denver’s best performance on either end, but sometimes, all they need is a little magic from their best player to turn a loss into a win.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets buzzer-beating win over Orlando:

Nikola Jokić remains calm as ever

Jokić never appears rushed in the final moments. He always tries to make the right play and generally does. He has the poise to stay calm when the clock is running down. That allowed him the opportunity to catch the ball and assess the defense before stepping back for the clutch triple.

“I think I looked up and there was like three seconds, so I had some time to do something,” Jokić shared postgame. “Then i just stepped back, and it felt good when I was shooting it.”

The Nuggets were beside themselves when he hit that shot. Murray and Michael Porter Jr. had their arms in the air. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope jumped on Joker’s back as he walked back to the huddle. The bench came to greet the two-time MVP at mid-court with smiles and cheers.

And Nikola Jokić: stony as a gargoyle to the bitter end.

“I don’t know. That’s how I…I don’t know. That’s how I react. Give no reaction.”

Part of the reason why the Nuggets are so collected in the clutch this season is Joker’s calmness. He never lets anything rattle him, and the Nuggets take cues from their best player. They aren’t rattled and mostly have unflappable confidence because Joker does too.

Nuggets take a step backwards defensively

The Nuggets weren’t great defensively for much of this game. They benefitted from some missed shots by Orlando in the first half, but the Magic drove to the paint in the second half and made this a tough game. Denver allowed a bit of a runway to the rim, and that only closed down again toward the end of the fourth quarter.

“The honest fact is: it’s probably good to have a game like this,” said Malone. “Coming out in the second half, we didn’t guard anybody. They lived in our paint. We turned it over. And now, you look at the score…so what are you going to do guys? Are we going to be a team that executes and gets stops? We outscored them 10-3 to close.”

It can be difficult to motivate for a Sunday evening game against the Magic in January. The Nuggets nearly paid for it. Ultimately, they found a way to win with some magic of their own from Joker, but that shouldn’t have happened at all. Still, the Nuggets got it done in the end.

“A win is a win is a win is a win, as we say in my household,” shared Aaron Gordon.

Bruce Brown steps up

Bones Hyland rolled his ankle in the first half and didn’t play the rest of the game. In his place, Jamal Murray ran the second unit by himself during the second half. It wasn’t perfect from Murray, but it helped that Bruce Brown was making plays all night.

Brown played 24 minutes and went 5-of-9 from the field for 12 points. he added two assists, four steals, and two blocks, making countless hustle plays to make up for what was a pretty weak bench group defensively. The Nuggets played Zeke Nnaji and DeAndre Jordan together with Vlatko Čančar a late scratch due to a leg contusion. Still, it was nice to see Bruce log so many defensive highlights. He hasn’t had as many steals of late, but a game with four is never easy.

If Bones is out for longer than just this game, the Nuggets will need Brown to continue to find ways to impact the game as a playmaker and facilitator. Christian Braun played a bit in the second half and could also contribute there going forward.

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