Once again, the Denver Nuggets used strong fourth-quarter defense to win a nail-biter. After falling behind early in the game against the Indiana Pacers, Denver’s defense was strong in the second half, holding Indiana to just 40 second-half points. A back-and-forth battle in the final minutes saw Bojan Bogdanović miss a go-ahead 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining, clinching the 102-100 win for Denver.
“Our defense was fantastic in the second half,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “I give our players all the credit, because they’re the ones making the plays on offense and getting the stops on defense.”
Although the Pacers (44-26) are best-known for their strong defense, it was their offense that came out firing in the first quarter. Indiana shot 68.2 percent from the field in the quarter, including 67 percent from beyond the arc. Despite some cold shooting for Denver (46-22), Nikola Jokic scored 16 points in the first quarter to keep the Nuggets in the game. However, the Pacers used tough shot-making and strong ball movement to jump out to a 36-25 lead after one. Indiana finished the quarter with eight assists.
The Pacers increased their lead to 16 as a result of an 8-3 run to start the second quarter. Indiana’s defense continued to present problems for the Nuggets, forcing tough shot after tough shot. The Pacers jumped out to an 18-point lead halfway through the quarter before Denver responded with a quick 5-0 run to get back into the game. Will Barton knocked down three 3-pointers in the quarter, propelling the Nuggets on a 15-2 run to close the final three minutes of the half. As a result, Denver found themselves down just three at the half, despite strong shooting from the Pacers. Indiana finished the first half shooting 62.2 percent from the field, while Denver shot 50 percent through 24 minutes.
The third quarter was a grind-it-out, defensive affair, but the Nuggets were able to make enough stops to grab a 63-62 lead early in the quarter. A late 8-4 run from the Nuggets gave them a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter at 79-75. The Nuggets outscored Indiana 22-15 in the quarter, using strong defense to gain the lead.
“It comes down to effort,” Malone said. “If you play hard and have pride, you have a chance to be a good defensive team. We settled down and made some defensive adjustments, and the guys on the floor owned it.”
The Nuggets’ defense continued to get stops to start the fourth quarter, allowing Denver to increase its lead to a85-80 early in the final frame. As the Nuggets continued to get stops, Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap got to the basket for and-one baskets, growing the lead to nine with just over eight minutes remaining. After Denver grew the lead to ten, the Pacers responded with a quick 4-0 run to gain momentum. Malik Beasley knocked down a 3-pointer and the Nuggets forced a shot clock violation on the ensuing defensive possession to regain control of the game. With just over five minutes remaining, Denver led 94-85. After a loose ball foul was called against Nikola Jokić with three minutes remaining and Denver leading 96-89, he was ejected from the game for disputing the call.
“It all started on the defensive end,” Gary Harris said. “We got more aggressive. At first, they didn’t feel us, and they were getting to their spots. After they felt us, we were able to go on a run.”
Both teams got to the line often in the remaining minutes of the game, and Indiana was able to cut the lead down to just one with 47 seconds remaining. Out of a timeout, Denver was able to get two quality looks from beyond the arc. However, after two misses from Jamal Murray and Millsap, Pacers big man Myles Turner split a pair of free throws to tie the game up at 100 with 28 seconds remaining. The Nuggets went to Murray and Millsap again after the timeout, with Millsap hitting a contested layup out of the pick-and-roll to give Denver a 102-100 lead with seven seconds left.
The Nuggets were led by Nikola Jokić, who scored 26 points on 11 of 21 shooting from the field. Murray (17 points), Barton (17), Millsap (15) and Gary Harris (10) were the other Nuggets in double figures.
Thaddeus Young led the way for Indiana with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Darren Collison (17 points), Bojan Bogdanović (16), Myles Turner (15) and Domantas Sabonis (16) were the other players in double figures for Indiana.
The Nuggets kick off a four-game road trip against the Boston Celtics Monday. The game will tip-off at 5:30 p.m. MT and will air on Altitutde TV.