The Denver Nuggets lost 127-126 in brutal fashion to the Sacramento Kings on the second night of a back-to-back.

With a chance to win the game vs the Kings in the final seconds, Nikola Jokić missed a floater in the middle of the paint, a rare occurrence. The Kings called timeout, advanced the ball, and inbounded it to Malik Monk who was fouled by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with just 0.7 seconds remaining. The NBA’s last two-minute report will show Monk committed an offensive foul on the play, but it wasn’t called in the moment and allowed the Kings to win the game at the free throw line.

Still, the final play doesn’t excuse Denver’s defense falling apart in the final quarter. The Nuggets were outscored 33-21 in the fourth, and most of that occurred on drives to the rim and pull-up jumpers in the mid-range. The Nuggets just couldn’t keep up down the stretch, perhaps emphasizing how exhausted the team was.

Here are my primary takeaways from the second night of Denver’s back-to-back in Sacramento:

Defense falls apart down the stretch

Without Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray tonight, the Nuggets knew they’d have some issues with their consistency on both sides of the ball. Talent helped propel the Nuggets to a 19-point lead in the third quarter though, and Denver was nearly on the brink of pushing this game out of reach.

Unfortunately, the Kings responded every time by generating efficient shots all night. Denver got away with allowing some open looks in the beginning, but the Kings stayed the course and pushed Denver to the brink in the fourth quarter, cutting that lead all the way down.

The Nuggets allowed 19 points in the final six minutes of this contest. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were getting everywhere they wanted to go, and with Nikola Jokić in drop coverage to help staunch the bleeding, Domantas Sabonis was shooting pick-and-pop practice jumpers all night. All three of Fox, Monk, and Sabonis finished with over 30 points, each player converting exactly 12 baskets and scoring with efficiency.

The Nuggets and Kings were both on a back-to-back, but given that the Kings had only previously played on December 23rd, they were clearly the more well rested team and healthier roster. That played a part down the stretch with Denver’s starters making plenty of defensive mistakes. Michael Porter Jr., though he had a strong first quarter, really appeared worn down by the end of the game, especially after taking a hard fall early in the fourth quarter.

Nikola Jokić almost won the game anyway

Any time the Nuggets have Nikola Jokić, they know they have a chance. That almost proved prophetic down the stretch when Jokić was burying every floater and jumper he attempted for the majority of the last six minutes. The Kings were on the ropes, and Jokić had an opportunity to win the game on a floating jumper at the dotted line with about five seconds remaining.

Unfortunately, Jokić missed a shot he normally makes, and the Kings got fouled and made a free throw to go up one with 0.7 seconds remaining. Jokić missed the ensuing prayer three-pointer wide left.

Jokić had played so well up until that point that it’s hard to blame him that strongly. He finished with 40 points on 15-of-24 from the field and made all 10 of his free throw attempts. He scored 10 of Denver’s 14 points in the final six minutes of the game. He was very good. The miss at the end was simply unfortunate.

Bones Hyland bounces back

Though the Nuggets lost, it was great to see Bones Hyland find some rhythm. Inserted into the starting lineup for Murray on the back-to-back, the Nuggets knew they needed Bones to find some comfort tonight. The last 10 or so games were rough, so playing extended minutes with Jokić felt like an excellent counter to Bones’ struggles.

Bones finished the game with 20 points, 11 assists, and five rebounds in his 33 minutes. He made 3-of-6 three-pointers and even shot 50% from the field overall. His lone turnover was a costly one in the fourth quarter, but an 11:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is fantastic otherwise.

The Nuggets need Bones’ dynamic scoring and playmaking talent, especially off the bench. It was good to see him bounce back in a pressure packed moment going up against De’Aaron Fox. Though Fox outplayed him, Bones more than held his own, doing some good things throughout and keeping the offense rolling down the stretch.

Hopefully, this game can be a catalyst for Bones to break out of his slump.

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