Nuggets win against Warriors in nailbiter

Matt Brooks
Writer & Digital Content Specialist

Talk about a nailbiter.

The Denver Nuggets squeaked by the Golden State Warriors, 108-105, on Wednesday. This was Denver's second game playing without Jamal Murray, who is out with hamstring tightness. Denver is now 8-1 on the season and leads the Western Conference by 1.5 games over the Dallas Mavericks. Golden State, meanwhile, dropped to 6-3 overall and fourth place in the West.

The game had a playoff atmosphere. It was close for practically all 48 minutes and both head coaches threw out numerous adjustments. Coach Michael Malone boldly chose to have Nikola Jokić defend backup guard, Chris Paul, in the fourth quarter.

Jokić also switched on more ball screens than normal and repeatedly guarded Steph Curry, Paul, and Klay Thompson in isolation. He looked pretty comfortable doing it, too.

"When you switch ball screens—that's why everybody does it now—it's to really try to negate the three-point line," explained Malone. "Against that team, you're doing everything you can to take away the three-point line."

Speaking of Jokić, he turned in another ridiculous performance with 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists. Jokić did most of his work against Golden State's backups when starting center Kevon Looney got into foul trouble.

Reggie Jackson was also a standout for Denver and finished with 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting to go with 6 assists. He hit two huge shots for Denver in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, including a layup off a give-and-go with Jokić.

"The last two layups, they tried to trap him off me," explained Jackson. "I noticed that my guy was peeling back to double him, and he just did a great job finding me. I couldn't believe how open I was. He's damn good and he makes life easy."

The Nuggets did an excellent job defending the three-point line. Golden State shot just 31.4 percent (11-of-35). Klay Thompson was just 2-of-8 from deep, and Stephen Curry went just 6-for-17 overall. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who guarded Curry for most of the contest, was awarded Defensive Player of the Game for his work against the MVP candidate.

The first quarter was a low-scoring affair. Michael Porter Jr. had it going for the Nuggets and hit a pair of threes, including one in the corner. He finished the period with a game-high 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Thompson started to build a rhythm towards the end of the period when Malone put his reserves in, hitting an absurd pull-up three and a tough shot after driving into Peyton Watson. Denver finished the first quarter ahead 26-21.

Malone kept his backups in for a lengthy period of the second and didn't put Jokić in until the 7:45 mark of the quarter. When the Joker did check in, he struggled a bit against Looney's physical defense. Curry got going by hitting a three-pointer halfway through the period to make it a tie ballgame. He would go on to hit another two three-pointers. Denver, meanwhile, pounded Golden State on the glass and scooped up 6 offensive rebounds to Golden State's 7 defensive boards, and the Nuggets entered halftime with a 53-47 lead.

The third quarter was once again low-scoring. In fact, Golden's 31 total points in the period were the most either team scored in six combined quarters of play. Looney got into foul trouble and picked up his fourth at the 3:57 mark in the period, and Jokić immediately got to work with rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis now on the floor. The Joker finished the period with 14 points on 6-of-7 made shots, but Golden State was able to craft a 78-76 lead.

Porter Jr. reignited Denver's offense with a massive shot while wedged deep in the corner. He then recorded a block on the other end as the helper, which forced a timeout from Golden State at the 10:41 mark of the fourth. Aaron Gordon then had two great defensive sequences on Curry, one of which was a block pinning his layup to the glass, and that led to an and-1 from Caldwell-Pope. Jokić checked in at the 7:02 mark with the score favoring Denver, 92-90, and got straight to work with a post-up on Looney. Golden State retaliated by having Looney short roll when Jokić played higher up to account for Curry's shooting gravity. When the helper rotated over to stop Looney's roll, he dished a pass to the helper's man for the uncontested shot. Golden State went to this look twice in the middle of the period.

Things were close until Jackson got a layup at 2:15 to make it a five-point game. Looney then hit a layup at 1:30 to make it a one-point game. Jackson fired back on a give-and-go bucket with Jokić the next possession. Golden State then fouled Caldwell-Pope in transition after a miss and two free throws made it a five-point game. But then Jokić bizarrely threw an errant pass that was intercepted by Curry, who promptly splashed a three to make it a two-point game with just under 20 seconds remaining. Golden State fouled Jokić intentionally, but he missed both free throws. With 14 seconds left, Stephen Curry sized Caldwell-Pope up but then missed the game-tying shot at the cup.