Denver began its long six-game road trip in Detroit on Tuesday night and much like Sunday’s game it was another close battle. The Nuggets led by as much as 15 points in the third quarter only to see that lead get cut to just three midway through the fourth.

They had 25 costly turnovers resulting in 38 points for the Pistons but it was their defense that helped them close it out to win it 110-105.

“The turnovers tonight were really alarming,” Malone said. “I told our players this is not the recipe for success on a long road trip to have 25 turnovers for 38 points so we have to clean that up but what allowed us to kind of weather that storm was in the second half our defense was terrific. They shot 38 from the field and 26 from three, so again, not a pretty game, both games against the Pistons were a slug-fest but I will take 2-0 any day.”

Nikola Jokic recorded his 35th double-double of the season with 28 points and 21 rebounds. He also had nine assists. Malone shared his favorite moment of the game which was a big shot from the reigning MVP that shifted the momentum.

“I felt the biggest play tonight [was in the] fourth quarter,” Malone said. “We’re struggling. Can’t score, can’t get a stop. Can’t stop the clock to get our subs in… so we take the time out, they’re making a helluva run and Nikola who has been on the bench for however many minutes comes out and knocks down a 3-point shot and that just speaks to his resolve, his calmness, and just being the clutch player that he has been for seven years.”

Jeff Green added 20 points and also won Denver’s defensive player of the game chain for the first time this season. It was a proud moment for the veteran.

“Yeah, I gave a huge speech, you know I’ve been battling for that chain all year and I finally got it in my possession,” Green said. “Fighting hard, we’re fighting hard but I finally got it so I was happy about that but it was a good team win at the end of the day. It was good to be back on the floor after missing the last game.”

Green had missed Sundays game due to a quad injury. Jokic shared his thoughts on the defensive intensity Green has brought to Denver and how important it is to have him out there.

“He’s really good,” Jokic said. “I think his ability and his athleticism he is someone who can guard one through five and just knowing the game and he [has been] in the league so long he knows the guys. He has been great for us.”

Aaron Gordon scored 16 points and Monte Morris had 12 points and eight rebounds. The Nuggets as a team killed the Pistons on the glass with a 56-36 rebound advantage which gave Denver 15 second-chance points.

Detroit rookie Cade Cunningham showed once again why he was drafted with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He scored a game-high 34 points.

“Cade Cunningham, what a helluva player,” Malone said. “He had a game tonight. Showed you why he was such a high pick. Scoring, rebounding, playmaking, and that kid’s future is very very bright. They got a special one here in Detroit.”

Jokic led the Nuggets on a 17-6 run to open the first quarter. He had 11 points, giving Denver an early 19-11 lead and had full control of the game until Cunningham started going off from beyond the arc. He scored three straight 3-pointers to lead the Pistons on a 14-5 run to close it out. They shot 55% from the field and 75% from 3-point range but Denver still had a 34-32 lead.

The turnovers began to build for the Nuggets which has been a weak spot for them. They had eight in the second quarter allowing Detroit to keep the game within reach. But Jokic’s 19 first half points along with Gordon’s 12 kept the Nuggets afloat. They had a 69-59 lead at halftime and also had a 28-13 rebound advantage.

Denver bought the heat in the third quarter going on a 7-3 run to start. Green was firing on all cylinders. He went up for a dunk, hit a 3, and attacked the paint to get to the foul line three times. He had eight points in the quarter and helped give the Nuggets a 15-point advantage. Zeke Nnaji drilled two 3-pointerss down the stretch to give Denver a 95-84 lead with 1:09 left. Jokic closed out the quarter with a layup to give the Nuggets a 97-85 lead. He added six points and another eight rebounds.

The Nuggets went cold for the first three minutes and 20 seconds to start the fourth while the Frank Jackson scored consecutive baskets to cut the Pistons’ deficit to eight. Cunningham then scored eight straight points to fuel an 11-2 run to cut Denver’s lead to just three. It was 99-96. Malone had seen enough and called a timeout. Jokic hit a crucial 3 out of the break to go up 102-96 but Jackson knocked down another shot to keep things close. Gordon and Jeff Green responded by scoring back-to-back buckets to give Denver the 106-98 lead with three minutes left to go. The Pistons countered with consecutive baskets of their own to get within four points but later missed three shots in a row which costed them the game. Monte Morris, who struggled offensively and went 3 of 14, came in clutch hitting four free throws and helped Denver hang on to win it 110-105.

“My message this morning was we defended one quarter two nights ago and that was enough for is to get the win,” Malone said. “In their building, it can’t be just one quarter and just more importantly, forgetting Detroit, I’m just worried about us. The last four games we’ve had the 30th ranked defense in the NBA. You don’t want to be 30th in anything. So I challenged our guys. I said let’s not get into a mindset of we’re going to outscore Detroit, we’re going just to trade baskets and make it a shoot out, and who can score the most points. That is a losing proposition in the long run. But we can’t do that.”

The Nuggets head to Brooklyn next to take on the Nets Wednesday night. Their matchup was postponed back on Dec. 19 due to COVID. The Nets will be coming off of a 106-96 loss to the Lakers so both teams will be playing a back-to-back game.

Denver has now won two straight and five of its last seven games. They have a 25-21 record and are still sitting at the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference standings.