Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic lead Nuggets’ stunning comeback win over Chicago – The Denver Post
Who said the pros don’t like the madness?
When Jamal Murray drilled a corner 3-pointer to end regulation, erasing a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and sending Friday night’s game to overtime, it wasn’t hard to predict what was coming next.
The Nuggets rode their superstar duo, Nikola Jokic and Murray, through the overtime session and survived a furious Chicago rally to win, 131-127. The gripping comeback improved Denver’s record to 25-16 on the season and gave the Nuggets their eighth win in nine games.
“I just think we’re both so good at making tough shots,” Murray said. “… Do you trap me? Do you let him play 4-on-3? Do you go in the drop and make me take a two or force me to shoot? Do you stay home, post-up, open up the 3-point line for everybody else? I see it’s a hard balance for other teams to dictate and stop.”
Entering the third quarter, Jokic and Murray had tallied 31 points combined. By the time their stirring rally ended, they’d scored 68 points together. Murray had 22 points in the fourth quarter and OT, while Jokic scored 15. Their two-man game, against a bewildered Chicago defense, was unstoppable. Murray’s shooting was sensational.
“I don’t know how many other two-man combos are as lethal in clutch situations as Jamal and Nikola,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone.
On the decisive 3-pointer to end the fourth, it was Jokic’s patience and vision that set Murray up for the moment.
“I was thinking about taking a contested three, but I just wanted to drive because we had a lot of time on the clock,” Jokic said. “I saw (Thad) Young stop in one moment, and I just spin and pass the ball to Jamal. He did a pump-fake and went to the corner for open three. … I mean, all that happened because of Facu stealing.”
The Nuggets never would’ve gotten to the spellbinding sequence without the pesky fourth-quarter defense of Facu Campazzo, whose two steals helped rip the game from the Bulls. His most memorable, an open-court strip of Bulls superstar Zach LaVine late in the fourth, epitomized Denver’s defensive effort during the run.
Campazzo said Murray told him to look for the steal on LaVine.
“I told him, ‘I will try, I don’t promise nothing,’” said Campazzo, with a smile on his face.
The turnover gave the Nuggets another possession with :27 seconds remaining in regulation, allowing Murray to connect on yet another clutch basket before his game-tying 3.
For two quarters, the Nuggets adequately kept a lid on LaVine, Chicago’s explosive wing. In the third, LaVine got hot. He buried three 3-pointers as part of an 11-point quarter and prevented the Nuggets from sawing away at the deficit. Eventually, the Nuggets went to Jokic, who scrapped for 10 points of his own. But the Nuggets felt a step slower than Chicago on defense and surrendered numerous debilitating 3-pointers.
In part due to a strong effort from Chicago’s reserves, the Bulls carried an 89-81 lead into the fourth.
Before the game, Malone couldn’t hide his excitement at the news that fans will be allowed back at Ball Arena beginning April 2.
“The hardest thing probably for our players, coaches, for everybody, you go into a game at Ball Arena and you have nobody there, playing in just an empty house,” said Malone, who’d previously made the claim that teams with fans had a competitive advantage.
“Our fans have been terrific,” he said. “Even if it’s a couple of thousand fans back in the building as a reward to them for their patience during these really hard times, and also to just get some Nuggets fans and Nuggets energy into the arena… I think our players are really going to benefit.”
The Nuggets could’ve used any of that energy during a lackluster first half against the Bulls, who carried a 55-47 lead into halftime. Denver had too many empty possessions, turnovers and careless plays. Whether it was forcing a bad shot or committing a useless foul, the Nuggets hardly looked in sync while shooting just 44% from the field and turning it over nine times.
After a quiet first quarter, Jokic asserted himself. He had nine points in the second quarter alone, finishing a flurry of baskets inside the lane. Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton added eight points each, and rookie forward Zeke Nnaji offered a spark off the bench with two 3-pointers.
With former Nuggets GM and current Bulls president Arturas Karnisovas watching intently from the stands, Chicago knocked down eight 3-pointers in the first half to build the cushion.