Nuggets fight back behind Jokic’s 26-point, 22-rebound game

Nikola Jokic drives on Sunday. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports.
Nikola Jokic drives on Sunday. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports.

If the Nuggets learned anything from their game on Thursday night it was that no lead is safe.

They learned that the hard way again on Sunday night after giving up a 17-point lead only to fight back. With 1:19 left in the third the Clippers took the lead and finished the quarter on a 26-5 scoring run. Denver managed to close it out in nail-biting fashion with Nikola Jokic hitting two free throws with 12 seconds left in regulation to win it 103-100.

“Obviously we went back to our starters very early in that fourth quarter,” Michael Malone said. “I did not want to make that same mistake as the Charlotte game. I wanted to get our guys back in and I love how we responded. They went on their run, give them credit but we responded the way we needed to. Getting stops, sharing the ball, executing. It was a little bit of an adventure there at the end but we did enough to pull out the win and we needed this one.”

Nikola Jokic finished the night with another elite performance with 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists. Will Barton had 17 points and Davon Reed added 15 points on 6-8 shooting off the bench. Reed is on his second 10-day contract with Denver and has been more than impressive.

“For a young man who is on his second 10-day contract with us he looks like he belongs,” Malone said. “I’ve said it since Summer League, Davon Reed is an NBA player. I just like D-Reed’s confidence. He looks very comfortable and confident up there and I think that’s the key. You got to believe that you belong and he certainly does.”

Reed prides himself on the defensive end and took on some difficult challenges against the Clippers guarding Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Boston Jr. which led to a game winning play. With 1.6 seconds left in the game, Reed was defending Boston out on the wing. He attempted to tie it with the clock winding down but missed the shot.

“Man, just don’t get scored on,” Reed said. “That was the only thing that was going through my mind. Defense is obviously something that I take pride in anyway but extra pressure on, not pressure but just got to get the stop. That’s what I do.”

Denver was without Aaron Gordon for a second straight game due to a hamstring injury so Austin Rivers played in his starting role and went 4-8 from the field for 12 points. He opened the first quarter with two 3-pointers and scored six points. The Nuggets shot 38 percent from long range while the Clippers dominated the paint scoring 16 points and shot 65 percent from the field. Denver took a 32-30 lead early.

The Nuggets opened the second quarter on a 14-5 run and were firing on all cylinders. They shot 58 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown while holding the Clippers to 46 percent shooting from the field and scoreless from long range. Reed took over scoring ten points to help give Denver a 12-point lead. Brandon Boston Jr. scored eight of his 15 first half points in the quarter helping cut the Clippers deficit to nine. Denver held a 64-55 halftime lead.

Denver went on a 6-2 run to start the third quarter to take a 71-57 lead. Los Angeles called a timeout to regroup and then responded with a 17-8 run to get to within six points. The Nuggets then called a timeout to try to stop the Clippers momentum but they just kept scoring. Serge Ibaka knocked down a triple to cut the deficit to three and then with 2:03 left Eric Bledsoe tied the game up at 79 after knocking down his own triple. That was 15 unanswered points for Denver as it went scoreless for the last five minutes of the game.

The Clippers took an 83-79 lead to close the quarter.

The Nuggets have been in this predicament before. Giving up large leads seems to be their thing but they knew they had to win this one to avoid losing three straight. They struggled from the field shooting 2-10 to open the fourth quarter. They managed to get some stops on the defensive end to keep the game close until Jokic took over, scoring nine points and knocking down a crucial 3-pointer that gave the Nuggets the lead with 3:50 left. Barton extended the lead 98-94 and then Rivers knocked down a three to take a 101-95 lead with 1:53 left. Los Angeles wasn’t going away, though; Terance Mann threw down a one-handed dunk and then Luke Kennard knocked down a 3 to make it 101-100 Denver lead with 20 seconds left. Jokic got fouled with 12.7 seconds left and knocked down both free throws to win it 103-100.

“I was definitely proud of our team,” Malone said. “Obviously, we had some examples of us playing some really good basketball. We built a 17-point lead and then all of the sudden everything changed. The Clippers became really aggressive and got out and ran, scored in transition, attacked the basket, had us on our heels and built a 9-point lead and to weather that storm, to stay together and to find a way to get stops and execute on offense down the stretch was great to see.”

The Nuggets are now 16-16 on the season and still have no timetable for Jamal Murray’s return. They head to San Francisco to take on the Warriors on Tuesday before facing them at home again on Thursday.

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