Nuggets blow late lead and fall to the Charlotte Hornets

Dec 23, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges (0) attempts a shot against Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji (22) as center Nikola Jokic (15) defends against forward P.J. Washington (25) in the third quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Jokic’s 29 points and 21 rebounds weren’t enough to get Denver past Charlotte. The Nuggets blew a 19-point lead as the Hornets outscored them 38-13 to close the fourth quarter to win it 115-107.

“When you lose that game in the fourth quarter and you lose it by a lot, everything was bad,” Jokic said. “Literally everything: offense, defense, shots, body language, energy whatever you can think about. When you score 13 points and they score 38, that’s really bad.”

Denver did everything it could to try to feed the ball to Jokic but he was double and triple teamed throughout the entire game making scoring quite difficult for the reining MVP. He went 13 of 34 from the field, the most attempts he has had in a game in his career.

“There were times where you got the reigning MVP and you couldn’t get him the ball,” Malone said. “They ramped up their pressure and whether it was in the pick and roll trying to give him the ball in the pocket against their switch. Whether it was in the post we were just unable to get him the ball. And the few times that we did he just wasn’t able to finish the way that we are a custom to seeing Nikola finish.”

The Nuggets were not off to a good start to open Thursday nights game and it looked a lot like déjà vu from their matchup on Wednesday night. The starters were sluggish and struggled shooting going 4 of 15 from the field for nine points. Nikola Jokic put up six of those points but went 3 of 11 from the field. The Hornets capitalized and took a 10-4 lead with 7:46 left. Denver also had three turnovers at this point forcing Michael Malone to call a timeout. Charlotte continued going off from long range shooting 60 percent and extended its lead 20-9 with 4:48 left. Then Denver’s bench came in and made an immediate impact. Austin Rivers knocked down three threes to cut the deficit to three. Facu Campazzo hit a 3 and then Zeke Nnaji threw down two dunks to give the Nuggets a 26-25 lead. Denver ended the first quarter on a 17-7 run but the Hornets managed to hang on to a 27-26 lead.

Denver’s bench outscored Charlotte’s bench 22-9 in the first quarter and continued going crazy in the second. JaMychal Green hit two threes and a pair of free throws to tie it up at 34 points. Then Jeff Green entered the game and scored six straight points including two dunks to give the Nuggets a 46-43 lead. Jokic added five straight points for Denver to extend their lead 52-44 with 2:55 left. Campazzo knocked down two more threes to help close the quarter on a 25-9 scoring run. Nuggets went up 65-52 at the half.

It was the Jokic and Wiil Barton show in the third quarter. Barton went off for 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting while Jokic added 11 points on 5 of 10. The Nuggets took as much as a 19-point lead in the quarter but only outscored the Hornets by four points.

Everything went south for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter. Kelly Oubre caught fire from downtown and hit three 3-pointers in a row. Oubre alone cut the Hornets’ deficit down to 10 points. He led all scorers with 23 points on 5-11 shooting from three. He continued making shots as did Terry Rozier who hit a 3-pointer to get to within two points with 6:40 left. The Nuggets turned the ball over twice allowing PJ Washington to knock down an open three to tie the game up at 99 with 5:30 left. Denver lost all momentum. Every time it scored, Charlotte countered with another three from Washington who scored 13 points off the bench on 5 of 6 shooting. Nine of those points came down the stretch in the fourth. With 1:20 left, Washington hit another 3 to take a 108-105 lead. The Nuggets couldn’t buy a bucket as they went 4 of 21 from the field and 0 for 9 from long range, ultimately blowing the 17-point lead they started with in the fourth. The Hornets outscored them 38-13 to win it 115-107.

“We didn’t defend and we didn’t do anything on offense,” Malone said. “It’s kind of easy to see what happened. The ball stopped moving. We had one assist I think in the fourth quarter. It became an iso centric over dribbling everybody trying to get theirs and that led to poor offensive possessions which fueled their break.”

The Nuggets have a much needed two-day break for the holidays before hitting the road for their games in California against the Clippers on Sunday and Warriors on Tuesday.