Sometimes you need a few extra minutes to get the job done. For the Denver Nuggets, five minutes of overtime basketball were needed in order to pull out a 120-114 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night. Fueled by an MVP performance from Nikola Jokić (39 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists), Denver escaped to move to 3-2 on its road trip.
It was a hot start offensively for both teams, with the Nuggets (12-12) holding a slim, 16-15 advantage at the first timeout. Both teams shot 60 percent or better in the first five minutes of the game, a stretch in which Will Barton scored 10 points himself. Nikola Jokić helped extend the lead to 11 late in the quarter and ultimately scored 13 points in the frame as Denver secured a 35-33 advantage after the first 12 minutes. Both teams finished over 61 percent from the field after one quarter of action.
Denver’s second unit struggled to open the second quarter as the Pelicans (7-20) cut the deficit to just one point. However, the Nuggets responded with an 11-0 run to regain control of the game and push the lead back up to double-digits. A late run from New Orleans reduced Denver’s lead to 64-57 at the break. Jokić led the way for Denver with 17 points (on 8-of-8 shooting from the field) and nine assists in 16 first-half minutes.
A 12-2 run from the Pelicans to open the second half continued a trend of early third quarter struggles for the Nuggets, who saw their halftime lead turn into a three-point deficit. Denver quickly responded with a 7-0 run to regain a 73-69 lead midway through the quarter. The two teams essentially traded buckets throughout the remainder of the quarter, which ultimately led to an 80-77 lead for the Nuggets heading into the final frame.
Denver wasn’t able to build on the lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, as New Orleans cut it to 87-85 with just under eight minutes remaining. The run continued for New Orleans and grew to 14-3 as the Pelicans took a 95-90 lead with five minutes remaining. Denver continued to push towards a comeback, with the Mile High squad eventually tying the game at 103 with 57 seconds remaining.
A bucket from Jokić gave Denver a 105-103 lead with 17 seconds remaining, but New Orleans tied the game up again with five seconds remaining. Jokić narrowly missed a Sombor Shuffle at the buzzer, which sent the game to overtime. The overtime period was all about the reigning MVP, who scored the first 11 points for the Nuggets in the extra period to close out the road win.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s win.
Jokić was in cruise control
After an off shooting night against the Chicago Bulls on Monday, the reigning MVP responded in a big way Wednesday night in New Orleans.
Jokić dropped 17 points and nine assists on perfect 8-of-8 shooting in the first half, the Serbian big man finished with 39 points (17-of-23 shooting), 11 rebounds, and 11 assists on the night. Using a healthy blend of scoring and playmaking, Jokić carved up the Pelicans’ defense throughout the night, which is exactly what the Nuggets will continue to need given the team’s shorthanded rotation.
Of course, the story of Wednesday’s game was the Serbian’s dominance in overtime. Jokić scored the first 11 points for Denver in the extra period to all but seal the deal for Denver and deliver a much-needed victory.
Points off turnovers helped fuel Denver’s offense
Heading into Wednesday’s contest, one key for the Nuggets was to take advantage of New Orleans’ mistakes. The young Pelicans squad owned one of the highest turnover percentages in the league as of Wednesday morning, and Denver was able to capitalize.
In the first half, the Nuggets scored 17 points off of 11 Pelicans turnovers, which ultimately turned into 31 points off 25 turnovers by the end of the night. On a night in which it wasn’t always pretty for Denver, taking advantage on the defensive end of the floor was crucial.
Denver won the second unit battle
The return of Bones Hyland Wednesday night provided some extra ammo for head coach Michael Malone, who has continued to tinker with rotations and lineups in hopes of getting consistent production off the bench.
Led by Hyland (nine points), Campazzo (nine points and four assists), and JaMychal Green (10 points) Denver got 32 points off the bench compared to 26 for New Orleans.
Denver is back in action Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs (6:30 p.m. MT).