Make that four straight wins for the Denver Nuggets.
Denver tallied its 51st win of the season on Monday, beating the Philadelphia 76ers at home, 116-111. Denver’s fourth consecutive victory ties the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second-longest current winning streak in the NBA. The win also gave Denver a 3.5-game cushion over the Memphis Grizzlies, winners of a league-best six-straight, for first place in the Western Conference.
Initially, this appeared to be a featured matchup between two MVP frontrunners, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić. That all changed when the 76ers scratched Embiid due to right calf tightness. His co-star, James Harden, joined him on the injury list with Achilles tendon soreness shortly after. Denver was suddenly given a golden opportunity to rack up a victory against a weakened opponent.
The fatigued and shorthanded 76ers didn’t go down without a fight, however, shrinking a 22-point Nuggets advantage to just 3 in the fourth quarter. Still, Denver did just enough to cross the finish line as winners thanks to a balanced effort from its rotation players. Nikola Jokić led the dance with 25 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists in yet another MVP-caliber performance, and five of the nine players that saw the floor for Michael Malone reached double-digit points.
The Nuggets carried over the defensive intensity they showed in their previous two games by ripping away two steals in the first 5 minutes of play. Tobias Harris had it going for Philadelphia early and knocked in two 3-pointers to keep his squad in the game. Denver led 14-10 at the halfway point in the first quarter. The Nuggets started to create some room thanks to back-to-back threes from Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, both of which came off passes from Jokić. Its defense remained staunch and held Philadelphia to just 33.3 percent shooting, giving the home dogs a 25-18 lead at the end of the period.
Though they struggled to score initially, Denver’s reserves quickly found a rhythm in the second quarter. Zeke Nnaji gave the Nuggets a boost by frustrating speedster Tyrese Maxey on pick-and-roll switches. This gave Denver the opportunity to get out and run to hit three 3-pointers in just over a minute. Maxey got his revenge, though, by rattling off 10 straight points in four minutes en route to a 15-9 run to make it a 2-point game. Behind hot shooting from the Sixers as a team and a scoring outburst from Maxey, Denver entered halftime ahead just 61-57.
As has been the trend of late for the Mile High squad, the Nuggets erupted out of the gates with a big third quarter push. Jokić went into scoring mode by accounting for 12 of Denver’s 22 total points in the first seven minutes of play to build a hearty 83-61 advantage. Jokić then reached the triple-double mark at the 2:26 mark in the period with his 10th assist of the night on a Bruce Brown 3-pointer. Denver entered the fourth quarter up by 14 points.
Denver’s bench squad checked in and kept the good vibes rolling. Christian Braun exploded for a monstrous jam after a miss and then followed that up with a sweet corner 3-pointer on the very next possession. The Nuggets sat comfortably with a 22-point cushion, and it appeared as if this one was over; 76ers coach Doc Rivers elected to empty his bench at the 5:47 mark, subbing in Montrezl Harrell, Jaden Springer, Jalen McDaniels, and Furkan Korkmaz to signify that Philadelphia was waving the white flag. Yet somehow, the Sixers whittled the Nuggets’ advantage down to just three points thanks to a 22-8 run. However, Philadelphia’s comeback was too little, too late. Denver slid across the finish line behind two huge clutch free-throws from Jeff Green for its fourth-straight victory.
Yet another third quarter push
The Nuggets cracked 30 points in the third quarter after a finger-roll layup from Jokić, the third-straight time they have done so as a team. Denver exploded for 34 points against the Milwaukee Bucks in the third quarter on Saturday and 39 points in the third against the Washington Wizards on March 22. Only the Sacramento Kings have totaled more points than the Nuggets’ 103 combined total third-quarter points in that same three-game span.
But on top of dropping a whole heaping lot of points to start the second half, Denver also held Philadelphia to just 20 points in the third quarter. It’s always good when, as a team, you match strong offensive output with staunch defense. Denver has outscored its last three opponents by 48 total points in third quarters, which by far leads the league (second place is Sacramento with a +35 third quarter plus/minus in its last three games).
Nikola Jokić crossed the triple-double threshold for the 29th time this season with 25 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. That, of course, leads the NBA by a sizable advantage, as second place on the triple-doubles list is Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis with just 12.
Jamal Murray is just 1 point away from passing Nene, who tallied 6,868 points as a Nugget, as Denver’s 10th all-time leading scorer. Murray finished with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting on Monday against the 76ers and will have the chance to make Nuggets history on Thursday against New Orleans. Expect Murray, who averaged 21.8 points per game in his last six contests, to cross that threshold early against the Pelicans.
Denver also earned its 32nd victory of the season at Ball Arena, which ties the Memphis Grizzlies for the most wins on a team’s home floor.
The Nuggets get right back into action on Thursday and host the New Orleans Pelicans at 8 p.m. MT.