The Denver Nuggets were able to close out a close game at home against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night. Nikola Jokić put up 41 points and Jamal Murray scored 19 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to blaze past the Blazers 111-106.
It took some time for Murray to get things going. He only scored 5 points in the first half but as soon as the fourth quarter started, he was on one.
“I knew when I took Nikola out to start the fourth that we were going to need Jamal to step up,” Michael Malone said. “And the funny thing is Jimmy Jackson asked me going into the fourth quarter, ‘well how do you get Jamal going?’ And I said the great thing about Jamal is if he sees one go in that’s all he needs.”
A couple threes went in and the rest is history. Murray was able to get the separation needed to lead the Nuggets to their fourth straight victory at home.
“It’s just a balance,” Murray said. “I’m not going to really force to try to get my points up so there’s just a time and a place. I got to pick my spots and sometimes I take my spots a little later.”
As of late, the Nuggets have struggled taking care of the ball but against the Blazers, Malone was most impressed with his team having only one turnover and 25 assists. Murray was not happy when he found out he was the one who committed the turnover but was happy with the teams’ overall performance.
“I’m sick,” Murray said about the turnover. “I had the one turnover for the team that’s crazy. But I think once we settle down we can get all the shots that we want.”
By Denver not forcing any turnovers, Portland was never able to get any fast break points but it did keep things close in the first three quarters, fueled by Carmelo Anthony’s 19 points off the bench in the first half. Nuggets defense made things hard for Damian Lillard early by holding him to just 5 points in the first half.
“Overall I thought we did a great job [on Damian],” Malone said. “Listen, Damian Llillard is an MVP candidate in my eyes… Not an easy cover. I thought Monté Morris and Facu Campazzo accepted that challenge.”
Portland is top 5 in three-point shooting percentage this season sitting at 38 percent. Malone was impressed with guys for holding them to 35 percent shooting from that range and for playing so well in the third quarter, which has been an area of struggle throughout this season.
“Third quarter was phenomenal,” Malone said. “That’s the key. We talked about it pregame. When we defend we’re a good team. We’re like Jekyll and Hyde man. In our wins, we’re a really good defensive team, in our losses, we’re a really bad defensive team and trying to find a lot more consistency on that end will definitely help us moving forward.”
Michael Porter Jr. had himself a good game on both ends of the floor as well, adding 12 points and 10 rebounds. He has been coming into games a lot more prepared on defense and shared what that preparation has looked like.
“I got tired of people saying I don’t play defense,” Porter Jr. said with a laugh. “Just try to lock on it and watch film on it. It’s really just a readiness. Knowing your opponent and then just instead of reacting when actions are in, it’s more anticipating actions and I think I’m doing a better job of that.”
The Nuggets play at home against the Wizards on Thursday, a team they had a hard fought battle with on the road last week.