Nuggets Stave Off Furious Mavs Rally, Win 105-102

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

Tuesday night’s 105-102 Nuggets win over the Dallas Mavericks at the Pepsi Center initially had the look of a gift, but instead turned out to be an unexpected thriller.

The Mavericks made a game of it after falling behind by 23 points to the Nuggets, cutting the lead down to one point with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter. There were nail-biting moments, to be sure, but the Nuggets made just enough plays to carve out the victory.

Still, the process to get there didn’t leave coach Michael Malone completely happy.

“I don’t ever want to be Debbie Downer and take away from a win,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We got a win, we protected our home court. I’m just really disappointed in our almost lack of composure and poise down the stretch.”

And yet a win is a win, and the Nuggets needed it. And it was powered by – who else? – Nikola Jokić. The Nuggets started a small ball lineup, featuring Will Barton at small forward and Wilson Chandler at power forward. That left Jokić back in the middle at center.

And he ruled.

The Nuggets got him the ball early in the post, getting him established in the game at the team’s primary scorer and playmaker. He responded with gritty play in the post and a couple of flashy dimes to teammates. By the time the first half ended, Jokić already had a full game’s worth of stats: 20 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists.

Jokić finished with 29 points, a season-high 18 rebounds and seven assists in what was his second consecutive game of at least 20 points and at least nine rebounds.

“Obviously, we featured him quite a bit in the post,” Malone said. “He’s a guy that we’re going to play through and we’re going to trust, and he had a fantastic night for us tonight.”

Overall, the Nuggets shook off a sluggish start to quickly take control of things. The Mavericks carved out a seven-point lead in the first quarter, but the Nuggets methodically reeled them in. When Barton hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to end the first, the Nuggets had their first lead at 30-27.

They used the second and third quarters to fully separate themselves from the struggling Mavericks, and put them away. The Nuggets opened up a 23-point lead in the third and looked to be in complete control. But Dallas never wavered. The Mavericks used big performances from Dennis Smith Jr. and Yogi Ferrell in the final frame to tighten things up.

But the Nuggets survived.

But because the game was in the balance late in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets could not rest their starters, which is a big deal given the fact the Nuggets face the L.A. Clippers on Wednesday night in Los Angeles in what is a very important game in the playoff race.

“When you’re up and you’ve got a game (Wednesday) in L.A. against one of the hottest teams in the NBA, you can’t give your opponents life. You can’t hope. Hope is a very dangerous thing in this league.”

Gary Harris scored 25 points on just 14 shots. Barton finished with 22 points and six assists.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.