Nikola Jokic’s determination set the tone for Detroit’s defeat in Denver

Mar 15, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Eric Moreland (24) shoots against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Malone has implored the Denver Nuggets to “play with urgency” so many times this year. and his young roster finally took those words to heart.

With just 14 game remaining — only five of which in the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver — the Denver Nuggets hosted the Detroit Pistons in a game that the Nuggets absolutely needed to win so a sense of urgency was a necessity.

That was immediately embodied by the Nuggets’ starting center, and best player, Nikola Jokic. The Serbian sensation was locked in from the jump on both ends of the ball. While the matchup was a slugfest throughout the first quarter, Jokic’s assertiveness and aggressiveness permeated into the Nuggets’ bench unit, who held strong and gave the Nuggets a lead of 33-29 by the end of the first quarter.

Unfortunately, Jokic was not the only motivated big on the floor. The Pistons’ newly acquired power forward, Blake Griffin, was dropping dimes and hitting threes from the second the game started. Griffin and Jokic traded productive quarters that resulted in Griffin amassing 12 points, two rebonds, and five assists while Jokic put up 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists.

Jokic remained hyper-focused during his second stint. What was special about Jokic’s play was that he was competing at a high-level on both ends of the floor. Jokic was doing his usual facilitating and scoring but was highly engaged defensively and that led — over the nearly nine minute stretch — to the Nuggets outscoring the Pistons 17-7 as Denver took a nine-point lead. That 17-7 run ballooned into a 25-9 slaughtering that gave the Nuggets a lead as high as 17 points in the first half.

By the end of the second quarter Detroit caught fire from behind the three-point line, Jokic put himself fully on triple double watch, and Denver went into the break with a lead of 65-51 over Detroit.

The third quarter arrived and the Nuggets just dialed up the intensity. The Nuggets could smell blood in the water and attacked the Pistons with pure ferocity as Denver pushed their lead up as high as 26 points. Jamal Murray began scoring in bunches, but what was even more important was that, yet again, the boost in intensity was spearheaded by none other than Nikola Jokic. It was his facilitating, inspired defensive play, and urgency that allowed Denver to beat down on Detroit.

Unfortunately, complacency set in as Jokic went to the bench and Denver allowed the Pistons to close from a 26-point deficit to just a five-point gap separating the Nuggets from the Pistons.

Just to add more anxiety to an already chaotic game, Gary Harris went down hard under the rim after being fouled on a dunk he threw down in transition. Harris did pop up and looked like he would be ok, but then sat back down as he waited for trainers to come check him out. He was able to stay in the game long enough to make his and-one free throw, but directly after he made the free throw, he went directly back to the locker room. Harris did walk off under his own power, but did not return to the game.

Just minutes after Harris left the game, Jokic picked up his fifth foul. Denver was in the danger zone and had lost the majority of their momentum, but the Nuggets refused to die. Both Denver and Detroit continued to trade buckets, but Denver did just enough to pull out the do-or-die victory. The Nuggets escape with a 120-113 win on the back of Nikola Jokic’s 14th career triple double of 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists to go with three steals and three blocks.

The Nuggets now prepare for their season-long seven-game road trip starting in Memphis against the Grizzlies on Thursday, March 17th.

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