DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 23: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on February 23, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Nuggets Keep Cool Down Stretch, Down Spurs 122-119

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

There are these moments in games sometimes when the sky starts falling. Calls start swaying in the other team’s direction. Frustrations boil to the surface. Multiple technical fouls are tossed around.

When San Antonio star LaMarcus Aldridge stepped to the free throw line with 4:36 left in the game, there were cracks in the Nuggets’ sky. Three minutes earlier, they’d owned an eight-point lead. Aldridge tied the game at 112. Boos aimed at a litany of questionable calls rained down from the Pepsi Center rafters.

The Nuggets needed a minute to exhale.

They huddled. They talked. There were many voices, but the message was the same: ‘Calm down. Worry about us.’

“I think we were all trying to calm each other down,” center Mason Plumlee said.

And then they did.

The Nuggets ended the game by outscoring the Spurs 10-7 to secure one of their most memorable victories this season, 122-119 on Friday night. It improved the Nuggets to 7-1 in February, to 10-3 in their last 13 games, and to 33-26 overall. It is the first time this season the Nuggets have put together a four-game winning streak.

And it was built on keeping composure.

“The game got very emotional,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I was hit with a tech and then Jamal was hit with a quick tech. But I’m proud of our guys because after that, we kind of talked about we’re not going to get the calls. They lead the league in fewest free throw attempts allowed. So, we just have to worry about what we can control. Down the stretch we got key stops, we executed.

“I love the fact that we didn’t just fall apart. It was going that direction, and we were able to manage to pull ourselves together and control what we could control. And that was a helluva win for us.”

Their point guard, Jamal Murray, turned 21. On Friday. The Nuggets still start three players no older than 23. Those players were on the court down the stretch, when experience is usually drawn on to see teams through turbulent times. But experience is thin on this team. Character and tough-mindedness, however, exists in abundance.

And that how the Nuggets were able to pull through despite the Spurs constant march to the free throw line. They shot 17 free throws --- in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets had 19 free throw attempts in the entire game. Nikola Jokić was brilliant all night long, but the foul calls piled up quickly on him and he collected five in the fourth, which led to him fouling out.

But the Nuggets pushed through it all.

“We had a couple of group huddles,” forward Wilson Chandler said. “Just trying to weather the storm and stay calm.”

Jokić and Chandler were the statistical stars of the night. Jokić finished with his third straight triple-double of 28 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. In Nuggets history only Fat Lever, in 1987, put three straight triple-doubles on the board.

“I really want him to start getting the recognition he deserves,” Malone said. “He is one of the best all-around players in the game.”

Chandler continued his recent tear with 18 points and 16 rebounds. In his last four games, he’s averaged 18.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and made 10-of-21 3-point shots.

“We just have to keep worrying about ourselves, keep on winning games,” Malone said. “We have 23 games left and it doesn’t get any easier. …We still have a lot of heavy-lifting to do, but if we continue to win and continue to play really exciting, good basketball, people will take notice.”

Christopher Dempsey: and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.


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