Jokic poured in a season-high 40 points, Murray dropped 24 including a crunchtime floater and two clutch free throws, and the Nuggets survived a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer from Damian Lillard to win 116-113 over the division rival Portland Trail Blazers. The two combined for 17 of the Nuggets’ 23 fourth-quarter points, outlasting the surging Blazers to improve to an NBA-best 18-3 at home.
Lillard finished with a team-high 26 points but was just 2-for-10 from the 3-point line.
Sunday’s emotionally charged win, featuring rowdy chants from a packed house, also improved their record to 6-0 against division rivals.
The Nuggets entered Sunday’s back-to-back finale with a 5-1 record on the second night of such sets this season. What’s more, in four of those instances, the Nuggets’ opponents had at least one day of rest.
“It’s really easy to make excuses in this league and to buy into those excuses,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “All along, my message and our players understand it. Instead of wasting energy on those excuses, let’s find solutions. Let’s find a way.”
The Nuggets momentarily wrested control with a flurry of momentum-shifting buckets late in the third quarter but eventually gave it all back when Jokic went to the bench. Jokic threw a sky-high alley-oop to Mason Plumlee to tie it at 78, and the Nuggets closed the quarter with 15 points over the final 4:22. Malik Beasley sunk two 3-pointers and finished a layup before Will Barton drained a corner triple to extend the lead to 93-83. But the Blazers immediately reeled off a Lillard-fueled 11-0 run to take the lead once again.
Former Nuggets first-round pick Jusuf Nurkic, who was roundly booed during player introductions, was Jokic’s primary defender and struggled mightily to contain his former teammate. Jokic used Nurkic’s aggression against him, often baiting and coaxing him off his feet.
Nuggets legend Alex English, who spearheaded a conference finals run in 1985, took in the game Sunday as part of the team’s signature rainbow jersey night. English, who was particularly excited about Barton’s return, portends a similar run this year.
“I personally feel like (this year’s team) will be in the Western Conference finals if they continue to play like this because they have such a balanced team,” English said, “and even though Jokic and Murray get a lot of credit, when I watch them, I see a lot of different pieces that contribute.”
Barton returned from an extended months-long absence in Saturday’s dispiriting loss to Phoenix, and Malone re-emphasized how difficult it will be reintegrate his players back into normal rotations. That process was again delayed with Gary Harris missing his fourth consecutive game because of a tight hamstring and Trey Lyles missing his second game in a row with a wrist injury.
“It’s hard, it’s frustrating, it’s not easy for any of us,” Malone said. “When you have as many injuries as we have and now you’re trying to incorporate a guy who’s missed 39 games (in Barton), our bench unit has had pretty good chemistry and synergy all year long. … When you get a guy like Paul (Millsap), Gary and Will back, who were out for a while, working them back in is not easy, because those guys want to get their rhythm back. But it’s not about the individual. It’s about the collective unit and what’s best for the team. It’s a fine line, it’s a delicate balance.”
Whether it’s the fact that they’re division rivals or that they have so much shared transactional history, matchups between these two teams rarely disappoint.
Both teams were physical in the first half with the Blazers leading by as many as nine points early before the Nuggets clawed back to trail just 60-58. Jokic had a game-high 17 poins through the first two quarters off a series of clever post moves and two 3-pointers. He was nearly matched by Lillard, who penetrated the Nuggets’ defense with relative ease and finished the half with 15 points.
In a battle of big men, Nurkic was the aggressor vs. Jokic with almost all of his 12 points coming from close range.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.