Jamal Murray missed his second straight game with knee soreness but the Nuggets didn’t miss a beat. They won their seventh straight game to beat the San Antonio Spurs 106-96 behind Nikola Jokić 25 points, 9 rebounds and 10 assists and Michael Porter Jr’s 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Jokić once again missed a triple double by one rebound which marked his 10th near miss of a triple double this season. The Nuggets have been finding ways to win everything and have now won 16 of their last 19 games. They got off to a slow start but came up big in the second half.
It was a game of runs which was expected going against a team like San Antonio, who was coming off of a 24-point loss to Cleveland on Monday. First quarter, the Spurs got off to a quick 11-6 start. The Nuggets responded with 5 straight points of their own and saw a little bit of action from everyone. Jokić had 11 points on a couple put backs and Michael Porter Jr added 8 points with a couple dunks. Denver trailed 32-30 going into the second.
Spurs opened the second quarter on a 5-2 run but Denver’s defense stepped it up, forcing San Antonio to miss 8 straight field goals after that. The Nuggets took a 42-39 lead after a Jokić tip in with 5:49 left. Jokić didn’t get to the free throw line once in the second quarter and head coach Michael Malone wasn’t having it. Unhappy with the officiating and the continuous no calls on Jokić, he let the referees have it and he got ejected with 5 minutes left to go in the second.
“That’s been brewing for a while,” Malone said. “And my job as a head coach is to fight and protect all of my players and tonight I did that.”
The feeling is mutual on Jokić’s end, too, and Malone said he offered to pay any fines the league may hand out because that’s what you do when your coach defends you.
“The best part about it is that Nikola ran up to me after the game and said coach I got your back,” Malone said. “Whatever comes your way I got the wallet out.”
While it’s evident that Jokić hasn’t been getting the MVP, star-like foul calls typically granted to players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, he doesn’t let that affect his game. In fact, he doesn’t even think about it.
“I really don’t think about it,” Jokić said. “As long as we’re winning I don’t care.”
He can ignore it all he wants but at the end of the day, the MVP candidate and 3x NBA All-Star is deserving of foul calls so what will it take for Jokić to get those calls? Three time NBA champion JaVale McGee has the answer.
“Win the championship,” McGee said. “You don’t hear guys who win championships complain about the refs. I feel like the refs have a monkey on their back to where they’re afraid to call it on certain caliber players. Jokić is a great player but technically he hasn’t won anything, yet so hopefully we can change that.”
Back to the recap:
Both Jokić and Porter Jr finished the first half with 15 points a piece and helped initiate a 10-2 run to close the second. Both the Nuggets and Spurs struggled with three point shooting and despite the Nuggets shooting 46 percent from the field, they still trailed 54-50 going into halftime.
Coming out of the half, the Nuggets had absolutely no answers for the Spurs as they scored 10 straight points. Denver went scoreless for over 4 minutes until Aaron Gordon scored a bucket at the 7:50 mark which ignited a 15-2 Nuggets run over the next 5 minutes. Jokić hit three straight baskets showcasing his footwork and his signature hook shot. Then a Campazzo three gave Denver a 7-0 run cutting the Spurs lead to just three.
The momentum was in the Nuggets hands and they capitalized. A Jokić to Gordon reverse layup and a trip to the foul line tied it up at 68 with 5 minutes left. After a slow start, Denver went 6/6 from the field going on a 23-6 run to close the third and took the lead 81-74.
JaVale McGee, who had 7 points on 3 of 6 shooting of the bench and 8 rebounds, said Malone’s energy is what sparked the Nuggets’ second half scoring surge.
“When a team starts off slow and when a coach shows passion like that and how much they’ll ride for their players, it really makes us work harder and go harder,” McGee said. “It showed up when he got ejected.”
Fourth quarter, it was all Denver Nuggets. Will Barton hit a three to give the Nuggets their biggest lead of the game with 12 and the rest is history. The defense was clicking on all cylinders and held DeMar DeRozan to just 4 points in the second half and didn’t allow him any trips to the free throw line. Facundo Campazzo, who had his second start of the season. ran the floor with authority. He found both JaMychal Green and JaVale McGee for a pair of dunks and then hit a three pointer to extend the Nuggets lead 100-81. The rookie is really starting to get a feel for his teammates and his role on the court. He finished the night with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
“It was my second game with the starters so I tried to be focused on my energy and make good decisions on offense and defense,” Campazzo said. “It’s something new for me, starting tonight and we are getting good chemistry.”
The Nuggets bench came in late in the fourth and took over from there to help Denver win seven straight. The Nuggets play the Spurs again at Ball Arena on Friday and then one more at home against the Celtics before hitting the road to take on the Warriors. Denver still sits at 4th in the Western Conference standings and just a half game behind the Clippers for the third seed.