After giving up a 31-point lead, the Denver Nuggets got their groove back in the fourth quarter and beat the Indiana Pacers 125-118 on Wednesday night. Nikola Jokic put up a monster stat line of 37 points on 15-19 shooting, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
“All that matters is that we found a way to regain our composure, close out the game and get a really important win with now five games to go,” Michael Malone said. “I told our guys ‘Hey, I’m proud of you for finding a way to win and not completely wilting and giving it away but you know moving forward we can’t give up 25 points off turnovers and 23 on 18 offensive rebounds.’”
Denver has struggled with turnovers this season, especially late in games. It had 15 in the second half and committed 20 total turnovers for the game. Indiana only had eight.
It looked like the Nuggets had this game in the bag when they scored 43 first quarter points led by Jokic who had 12 along with seven rebounds and five assists. Denver shot 68% from the field and 58% from beyond the arc while holding Indiana to just 25% shooting from the field and 22% from long range. The Pacers only scored 15 points in the quarter.
The Nuggets went up by as much as 31 points in the second quarter but the Pacers started connecting on all of their shots while locking down defensively. They went 56% from the field and outscored Denver 38-26 in the quarter. Indiana out-rebounded Denver 10-4 and had 14 second-chance opportunities to Denver’s none. The Nuggets still had a 69-53 lead at the half.
The Pacers carried their momentum into the third quarter and went on a 24-4 run to take an 86-85 lead. They dominated the paint 20-12 and out-rebounded the Nuggets 12-6. They also forced eight Nuggets turnovers and won the quarter 38-22 to tie the game up at 91.
“My frustration is I think we get bored with success,” Malone said. “We got up 31 because we played a certain brand of basketball. And then all of the sudden we think, ‘Oh we’re up 31’ and I kept telling our guys it’s 0-0 second quarter. Win the quarter and obviously we didn’t do that. That’s when things started to unravel.”
Turnovers continued to be a problem for the Nuggets in the fourth as they committed seven more of them. It was back and fourth for most of the fourth until things got chippy between Austin Rivers and Lance Stephenson, which eventually led to Rivers getting wrongfully ejected. Stephenson was up in Rivers’ space so Rivers did a harmless elbow fake to create room and it was ruled a malicious action despite there being no contact.
“I asked Tony Brothers, the crew chief,” Malone said. “I watched the replay on the bench and there is zero contact. He didn’t hit him in the face with an elbow. There was no contact. He was really into Austin’s airspace. Austin turned and pivoted and ‘I go Tony, there was no contact on that. He was spacing up.’ And he goes, it was a malicious act, he doesn’t have to make contact so we’ll definitely talk to the league about that.”
Rivers went to Twitter to vent.
Never in my life have I been thrown out of Game for something so ridiculous. Seriously…never😂. League gotta look at this one.
— Austin Rivers (@AustinRivers25) March 31, 2022
After that, Denver went on a 7-2 run to take a 107-102 lead and would eventually end up winning 125-118. Bones Hyland made a big impact off the bench scoring 20 points with seven assists.
“Whether I’m scoring a lot of points or I’m not scoring a lot of points I always have the same energy, letting the guys know that I’m all in and I’m a great teammate,” Hyland said. “But tonight it was more of that energy. We went down two points to them and I just saw guys drop their heads and I’m just like, ‘we good, we good,’ and I just try to provide that energy on the defensive end and offensive end.”
Denver has now won three games in a row and has snuck into fifth place in the Western Conference standings with a 46-31 record. It is three full games out of the play-in tournament.
The Nuggets play the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Friday, a team that is currently in seventh place but is battling for sixth to avoid the play-in. Denver is 1-2 against them this season. The Nuggets will then travel to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers and then close out the season against San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers all at home.