Nuggets secure win over Pelicans behind Jokić’s 37 points

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Mar 24, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA;Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) moves to the basket against the Toronto Raptors during the first half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets close out their road trip with a 113-108 win over the Pelicans powered by Nikola Jokić’s 37 points, 6 rebounds and 9 assists. New Orleans led by as many as 14 points in the second quarter but Denver found its rhythm late to secure the win.

Zion Williamson put up a dominating first quarter scoring 15 points of his 39 points and went 5 of 6 shooting from the field. There was nothing Denver could do to stop him. He was all over the floor and got to the line 5 times in the quarter. 

“Zion is almost unguardable,” Michael Malone said. “You really need all 5 guys on the floor guarding him. He’s just so explosive, so shifty, he gets to wherever he wants.” 

In the second quarter, the Nuggets still struggled closing the gap as the Pelicans had an answer for every bucket. Every time the Nuggets would go on a run, the Pelicans responded with a run of their own. New Orleans also got to the line 7 times to Denvers 1. 

Third quarter, the Nuggets stepped it up a notch. Michael Porter Jr. went 2 of 2 from three point land while Jokić went 5 of 9 from the field to score 11 points. Murray added 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting and hit three baskets in a row to tie the game up at 80 with 3:22 left in the quarter. Murray finished the night with 23 points and 11 assists.

Jokić then hit a three-pointer to take an 83-80 lead and then found Porter Jr cutting to the basket to take an 85-80 lead with 1:25 left. Denver went 5 of 6 from three in the third quarter. 

But the Pelicans took an 86-85 lead with two straight baskets from Zion and a jumper from Eric Bledsoe going into the fourth. The Nuggets didn’t allow the Pelicans to get to the free throw line in the third. 

New Orleans then went on a 13-2 run to open the fourth and took a 93-87 lead with 9:20 left to go. Later in the quarter the Nuggets gained some momentum behind Jokić’s 11 points and Paul Millsap’s seven. Murray was all smiles when asked about the veteran’s performance. 

“That’s my guy,” Murray said as he started reading off Millsap’s stats for the night. “16 points, plus three, 7 boards, 2 steals, 50 percent shooting, 30 minutes. That’s my guy. He was huge.”

Back to back baskets from Jokić gave Denver a 3-point lead and then a couple solid defensive stops sealed the deal in a 113-108 win. The Nuggets held the Pelicans to just 45 points in the second half and 43 percent shooting from the field. 

“Really proud of the second half defensive effort,” Malone said. “We just stayed with it and we stayed within striking distance. That was a helluva come from behind win.” 

The past two games the Nuggets played against the Pelicans, the Pelicans have visited the free throw line a total of 50 times— 20 times on Friday night in New Orleans and 30 times in Denver on Sunday, March 21. The Nuggets went to the line a total of 17 times — only 7 times on Friday night and 10 times in their game on March 21. 

“Well I think we’re getting fouled at times,” Malone said. “I think sometimes the calls may be missed. Nikola played 41 minutes and was unable to get to the free throw line at all.” 

Malone continued and said he will watch game film and find out what they need to do better in terms of getting those calls and will continue talking to the officials and the league about what they need to do to get to the free throw line more.

The Nuggets head back to Denver to take on the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee are also expected to play for the first time since the trade on Thursday morning.

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