Nikola Jokic’s fourth-quarter scream represented one of his rare shows of emotion at Monday night’s game. Naturally, it was an assist that elicited the roar.
The Nuggets’ center caught the Warriors napping when he threw a pass halfway across the court that Jeff Green finished for a layup. It was one of a handful of signature plays the Nuggets needed to stave off the feisty, undermanned Warriors, 131-124.
“Get it in quickly, length of the floor touchdown pass, and Jeff gets the and-1,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who was unofficially credited with the hockey assist for feeding Jokic the ball quickly out of bounds.
Following his historic performance Sunday night, Jokic, apparently indefatigable, was the difference again. He polished off his 18th triple-double of the season with a 32-point, 15-rebound, 13-assist performance.
“This is normal for him now,” said Green, who stumped for Jokic, again, in the MVP race.
The win, Denver’s 11th of its last 13 games, took a total team effort against a depleted Warriors’ team. Green poured in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. His chase-down block off a Jordan Poole breakaway swung momentum with 3:51 remaining.
Without Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors were hardly themselves. Poole poured in 32 points and Moses Moody had 30, the two combining for 13 3-pointers in their best impersonation of Golden State’s Splash Brothers.
“Not every win’s gonna be like a masterpiece,” Malone said.
Denver’s Monte Morris scored 18, and reserve Davon Reed added 17 with five 3-pointers. The Nuggets’ reserves combined for 40 points. As a team, Denver hammered Golden State for 66 points in the paint while dishing 39 assists.
Poole opened the third quarter like Ball Arena was his personal practice gym. He buried three 3-pointers in quick succession, exposing Denver’s porous perimeter defense to build an 83-77 Warriors lead. From there, Denver’s offense engaged around Jokic.
He served up numerous easy dishes to a slashing Jeff Green, and Morris knocked down consecutive 3-pointers. Jokic also became a wrecking ball inside, leaning on both his power and touch. On one sequence he lobbed Aaron Gordon for an alley-oop, which secured yet another triple-double. But Denver’s defense was woeful. The Warriors scored 32 points in the quarter and trailed just 104-101 heading into the fourth.
Although the Warriors were inconvenienced by Monday’s makeup game by virtue of an extra trip to Denver, Malone underscored how it impacted his team as well.
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“I understand where they’re coming from because as you’re trying to reschedule and make up all the games that were postponed, you’re looking at a really tough window,” Malone said before the game. “(The NBA) reached out, but they really weren’t open for any feedback. I don’t blame them. … This Golden State game that was rescheduled was a second night of a back-to-back. Then, you look, we’re also going to Sacramento and then coming back to play (Golden State). … I understand where the league is coming from, it’s a very hard job.”
Nonetheless, the Nuggets found themselves in another slog after Sunday’s dramatic overtime win.
As Malone walked toward the locker room following the first half, he was muttering to himself – no doubt a product of the 38 points Golden State scored in the second quarter. Denver’s 71-69 halftime lead was a result of listless defense and scorching outside shooting from both teams.
Moody rained in five 3-pointers for 22 points in the first half.
Denver countered with its most formidable attack — Jokic. The reigning MVP had 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 16 minutes over the first two quarters. His interior dominance, coupled with his otherworldly vision, picked apart the Warriors’ paint. Denver amassed 36 points inside in the first half.
Coming off the bench, Reed buried four 3-pointers to balance the attack.
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