Denver Nuggets 107, Indiana Pacers 113: Three takeaways
The shorthanded Nuggets’ struggles in the fourth quarter proved costly as they lost 115-107 to the Pacers at Pepsi Center.
Nikola Jokić poured in a game-high 30 points and added 10 rebounds to lead Denver while Indiana was led by Domantas Sabonis, who had a triple-double with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 10 dimes.
The Nuggets appeared to be headed to their 30th win of the season thanks to a relentless effort on defense started in the first half. The team blocked three shots and held its opponents scoreless on 0-of-9 shooting in the opening four minutes of the game. Although Denver shot just 37.5 percent in the first quarter, Will Barton III ensured the team would have a seven-point lead after 12 minutes thanks to his 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
The Pacers would fight back in the second quarter, with the group hitting five three-pointers to cut the deficit to just 37-35 after a 10-4 run. Jokić’s efforts before halftime would keep the Nuggets ahead. The center dropping eight points in the second quarter and helped the team go into the break with a 50-44 lead. Jokić would have 16 of his final tally after the opening two quarters of the game.
The Nuggets looked poised to win when they took a 79-69 lead with 1:09 remaining in the third quarter. But the Pacers remained resilient, rounding up a 13-5 run to tie the game at 91 apiece with 6:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. That’s where things started to unravel for Denver coach Michael Malone’s team.
“After the first quarter, we didn’t play any defense,” Malone explained. “The few times they did miss, they just pushed us around.”
Sabonis had a monster fourth quarter for the Pacers, pouring in eight points and adding six boards. There was one possession during which Indiana’s power forward collected three consecutive offensive boards, helping the Pacers score on their fourth attempt at the rim to push the score up to 100-97. Indiana would close out the game on a 15-7 run to secure the win.
"We lost this game because we didn't defend anybody," Malone said. "The lack of defense in the second half was alarming."
Here are the takeaways
Offensive rebounding and three-pointers the difference
Although the Nuggets and Pacers matched each other on the offensive glass, the timing of Indiana’s boards on that end proved pivotal. Indiana grabbed seven of its 11 offensive rebounds in the final quarter of the game. That sparked the Pacers’ fourth quarter offense as they had the highest-scoring quarter of the game with 41 points in the final 12 minutes.
"I thought we did a pretty job until the fourth quarter, that's when they had their way with us on the offensive boards" Malone said.
The difference from deep was also significant. With Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap sidelined with injuries, the Nuggets didn’t have three of their best three-point shooters available and couldn’t keep up with the Pacers from downtown. The Pacers knocked down 13 threes on 44.8 percent shooting, while the Nuggets could only muster 3-of-23 from behind the arc.
"First half, I thought we handled it pretty well," P.J. Dozier explained. "Second half, we had a lot of breakdowns and that's why we ultimately lost the game. We have to clean that up."
The Nikola show
Jokić was dominant in the first three quarters, scoring 28 of his 30 points in the first 36 minutes of the game. He helped in carrying the Nuggets offensively in a night they desperately needed him to despite the final result.
With Denver dealing with a spate of injuries, the team has relied on other players to pick up their games in order to supplement the 40 points per game provided by Murray, Millsap and Harris. With the second unit edged by Indiana’s reserves 46-35, it was an assertive performance from Jokić that kept the team in the game.
The Pacers had no answer for the Nuggets star in the third quarter, where he scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Jokić’s efforts sparked Denver’s advantage in points in the paint, where the team outscored the visitors 64-48
Craig joins the swat team
The Nuggets’ defense through the opening three quarters appeared to be returning to its early-season form and Torrey Craig played a big part. He helped the Nuggets set the tone early against the Pacers and he was responsible for two of the Nuggets’ first three blocks of the game.
Craig’s play of the game might have been late in the second quarter. With the Nuggets playing zone, Myles Turner thought he could use his 6-foot-11 frame as an advantage over the 6-7 Craig. The forward held position and denied the center with an emphatic block – his third of the night. Barton III would capture the loose ball and find Jokić, who then found Craig trailing behind with an incredible spinning pass. Craig secured an and-1 on the play and put the Nuggets up seven.
Although the Nuggets would struggle in the fourth quarter, Craig’s efforts in protecting the rim stood out.