After going 4-4 in their first eight games after the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets have bounced back with two-straight wins in the Pepsi Center. With so few games remaining before the arrival of the postseason, all focus was on the Nuggets getting into a rhythm and gaining positive momentum.
In a hard-fought game, Denver was able to get a taste of playoff basketball against a very strong opponent in the Indiana Pacers. By the time the game ended, the Nuggets managed to erase an 18-point deficit to win their 46th game of the season — the same number of wins Denver managed to grab a year ago. The final score was 102-100 in Denver’s favor.
To begin the game, Denver’s defense was anemic. There was no communication as guys continued to mess up switches and coverages. There was no fight on the perimeter as the Pacers were able to slice into the paint at will. Indiana attacking the paint also opened up the 3-point line which allowed the Pacers to balloon their lead to 11 points in the first 12 minutes of play.
Despite the lack of defensive production, there was one very shiny silver lining; Nikola Jokic not only looked aggressive, but as if he was on a war path. The narrative of Jokic being fatigued has been circulating more and more, but it felt like Jokic was making a point to showcase that he can still dominant a game whenever he needs to. He had 16 first-quarter points on 7-of-10 shooting and was hyper-aggressive from the tip.
By the time the first quarter came to an end, Denver trailed the Pacers by 11 points to the tune of a 36-25 deficit.
The second quarter did not provide the Nuggets with a reprieve. The Pacers continued to attack relentlessly until their lead was pushed as high as 16 points with three minutes left before halftime.
That is when the Nuggets decided to put their foot down and take back control.
In the final three minutes of the first half, Denver made four 3-pointers and went on a 15-2 run which helped take their 16-point deficit and dwindle it down to just three points. After being beaten to a pulp in the first 21 minutes of the first half, Denver’s final three minutes were dominant and, as it has been all year, it was because the Nuggets finally got defense into the game.
It only took 105 second of play to start the third quarter for the Nuggets to take the lead on a Gary Harris baseline drive and finish. After trailing by as many as 16 points, Denver only needed seven minutes to eradicate all of the work that Indiana did in order to give themselves a chance to win on the road in Denver.
In addition to their offensive prowess, the Nuggets defense was also spectacular to start the second half. They held the Pacers to just 2-of-11 shooting in the first six minutes of the third quarter which helped fuel their offense.
The combination of strong defense and efficient offense is why Denver carried a 79-75 lead into the fourth and final quarter. Denver held the Pacers to just 15 points in the third period and were able to score 22 points of their own to take a four-point lead.
The Nuggets intensity did not go away in the fourth quarter. Denver kept their collective foot slammed down on the accelerator and it allowed them to remain in control for the final 12 minutes of play despite referee Tony Brothers making terrible foul call after terrible foul call.
The reason that Tony Brother’s awful officiating is being brought up in an article is because, in addition to his extremely questionable calls, he also ejected Jokic on a double technical for almost no reason. While the play may have deserved a single technical, ejecting Jokic was just wrong and unnecessary.
Stil, despite everything, the Nuggets did not let it effect their energy. They continued to battle and refused to let officiating decide their fate. Even as Denver continued to fight, the Pacers tied the game with just 27.9 seconds left on a free throw.
Then, with the game tied and their star player ejected, the Nuggets went to Paul Millsap, their $30 million man, to bring them home. Millsap attack the paint and hit a layup with seven seconds left to give Denver a 102-100 lead — a lead that would hold until the game was over as Denver defied the odds to win their 46th game.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Jokic accumulated 26 points, seven rebounds, and five assists on 11-of-21 shooting from the field before his ejection. Will Barton also had a strong game and finished with 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists including four-made 3-pointers.
Next, the Nuggets will head back out on the road and look to keep battling for the first seed in the Western Conference. In order to secure their 47th win of the season, Denver will have to beat the Celtics in Boston on Monday night at 5:30 MST.