Wednesday did not erase the sting of last week’s belly-weary breakdown against the Clippers, but it was a meaningful – and dramatic – step in the right direction.
The Nuggets fought back from their own double-digit deficit in the second half, claiming a satisfactory goal of revenge and surviving 130-128 to defeat Los Angeles in overtime.
Nikola Jokic saved 11 of his 49 points for overtime. He knocked on the glass, knocked tip-ins in and struggled with control of the game in front of a national TV audience.
“It was an incredible match,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “You tell me. If Nikola Jokic is not MVP, then who is?”
His signing moment came with 2.2 seconds left in the OT as the Clippers sent a double and Jokic hit a pass to Aaron Gordon in the corner. Gordon was ready and buried the massive 3-pointer to the delight of the audience.
“That guy can hit you with his pass, his scoring, his rebounding, and the last pass to Aaron not only wins the match, but gives him his 10th assist of the night,” Malone said.
At half-time, Jokic triggered a primal scream. Captured at the moment, Nuggets reserve Davon Reed hit the field and got a technical foul for the celebration. Thankfully, it did not matter.
Reggie Jackson missed half the track lift and Jokic’s masterpiece was safe. With 14 rebounds and 10 assists to go along with his overwhelming offensive performance, Jokic delivered his 10th triple-double of the season.
Monte Morris added 19 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 44 minutes. He and Gordon got best supporting roles in Wednesday’s gripping victory.
Gordon set the tone for a breathtaking third quarter with his physical and impressive defense. After the Clippers built a 71-57 lead, Gordon and the Nuggets teamed up. His tacky defense helped dampen Jackson while Jokic beat the Clippers. With consecutive Euro-steps and several bruises, Jokic accounted for 17 points in the quarter alone. His unique dominance nurtured a 24-10 run over the final 9:03 of the quarter that provided a lively crowd.
Shortly after Clippers guard Terance Mann got a technical foul from the Los Angeles bench, Jokic did the same. He was furious when he did not get an ugly call on a second-chance layup and let the official hear it. The only reason he stayed in the game was that Nuggets coach Michael Malone intervened.
A few minutes later, a soft, friendly jump on a Gordon jumper sent the match to the fourth draw at 81.
For weeks, Malone has seen the creative plans opponents have thrown in Jokic’s direction.
“It’s not just the Clippers,” Malone said. “Every team we’ve played has become small, changed everything, tried to front him, so this is not unique to the Clippers. It’s really a mandate for the whole league to guard Nikola.
“We spent time talking about it, watching movies, going through it, drilling it into practice yesterday,” Malone said. “We can not get as obsessed with Nikola touching it, because now four other players are just standing around and we’ll be even so much easier to guard.”
After a strong 3-point shot start, the Nuggets went cold. The Clippers spoiled a 23-5 run to start the second quarter, which in turn revealed Denver’s bench unit.
In the middle of the race, Jackson buried several 3-pointers and then kissed the crowd while momentum increased. Former Nugget Isaiah Hartenstein offered a primal scream after a two-handed jam, and the Clippers led 59-47 into the break.
Only Jokic and Morris offered much resistance. Jokic knocked inside for 12 points, but his typical production, filled with dazzling assists and relentless work on the glass, was not there in the first two quarters.
Morris went into the break with eight points and eight rebounds, which were high in the game.
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