Nuggets blast Pacers in the fourth quarter, improve to 23-16 on the season – The Denver Post
It’s not often Nikola Jokic gets relegated to cheerleader.
But as the Nuggets blitzed the Pacers, ripping off a 17-2 run to start the fourth quarter, Jokic couldn’t help himself. He bolted up from his spot on the bench, whipping a towel in encouragement, as his guys smacked Indiana right out of Ball Arena.
When Jokic finally returned, he buried three consecutive buckets to all-but ice the game. Denver’s 121-106 win over Indiana on Monday improved its record to 23-16 on the season ahead of Wednesday’s matchup against Charlotte.
It was the fourth-quarter bludgeoning that ultimately decided it. The Nuggets ran up the score with a 34-15 quarter, their offense in lockstep while their defense swarmed.
“Simply stated, our defense in the third quarter was a joke,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of his message entering the fourth. “And if we had any chance of coming back and winning, we were going to have to play a lot better defense.”
They did that and more.
Jokic finished with 32 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and four steals. He got plenty of help from Will Barton and Michael Porter Jr., who combined for 40 points and 14 boards.
And following two slow games out of the break, Jamal Murray slowly started to thaw. He buried a couple signature heat-check 3-pointers, finishing with 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
JaMychal Green’s 16 points off the bench added even more offense on a night when the Nuggets buried 15 3-pointers.
Led by 24 points from Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers kept it close until the fourth behind their streaky outside shooting. Indiana entered the night averaging 12 3-pointers but finished with 17 against Denver.
Once again, the opponent started the second half several minutes before the Nuggets did. What began as a nine-point lead at the break evaporated, quickly, under stagnant, one-on-one offense and porous containment. The Pacers rained in 3-pointers — 17 through three quarters alone — and Denver didn’t consistently play through Jokic until the lead had dried up.
By the time Indiana’s run was over, they’d outscored the Nuggets 35-22 in the quarter and carried a 91-87 lead into the fourth.
The absence of Monte Morris (quad) for the second consecutive game was obvious. The Nuggets lacked another facilitator, opting to start veteran Paul Millsap instead. As a result, the move slid Porter back down to the three.
Before the game, Nuggets coach Michael Malone reflected on the growth of Porter, who only recently played the 83rd regular season game of his young career.
“He’s still growing, he’s still learning the NBA game,” Malone said of his budding star. “He’s still learning the league personnel-wise … I think people don’t understand how long it takes young kids coming in to really get a grasp of what the NBA is all about.”
Entering Monday, Porter was averaging 15.1 points on 43% 3-point shooting along with more than seven rebounds per game. A starter for the majority of the season, Porter’s minutes have steadily risen since January.
“I think he’s getting better and better with his spacing, his awareness on offense, not always running to the ball, but playing off of his teammates,” Malone added. “Michael’s shown a lot of growth and he’s shown a lot of promise.”
His activity, especially on defensive contests in the first half, was more evidence of his growth.
Denver’s offense hummed in the first half en route to a 65-56 lead at the break. Five different players reached double figures, led by a team-high 14 points from Barton. A significant portion of their damage was done from the perimeter, where Denver knocked down 10 of its 16 attempts.
But the Pacers hacked at what was once a 20-point lead, draining 10 3-pointers of their own.
Despite a slight tweak in his right leg early, Jokic stayed in the game and went pound-for-pound against Indiana’s bulky frontcourt. He logged a first-half double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.