Nikola Jokic had 37 points and nine assists and the Denver Nuggets outlasted the New Orleans Pelicans 113-108 in a tight fourth quarter Friday night.
Michael Porter Jr. scored 25 points, and Jamal Murray had 23 points and 11 assists for the Nuggets. Denver trailed by as many as 14 points in the game and 11 in the fourth quarter, but closed on a 24-8 run.
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“It’s been an emotional couple days and I’m proud of them for pulling it out,” said Denver coach Mike Malone, alluding to a trade Thursday that sent Gary Harris, a popular Nuggets player for more than six season, to Orlando as part of a deal that is bringing Aaron Gordon to Denver.
Zion Williamson had 39 points on 16-of-19 shooting for New Orleans. He also had 10 rebounds and two blocks.
“I just stayed aggressive. I stayed on the attack and I got a lot of my shots to fall,” Williamson said. “It wasn’t enough. They were just hitting some big shots. They closed the game out well. They’re a great team. Hats off to them.
Brandon Ingram had an off-night shooting for New Orleans, missing 12 of 17 shots, including a 3-point attempt from the corner that could have tied it in the final minute.
Malone thought his staff’s decision to have Porter guard Ingram — unlike when Ingram scored 30 in a victory at Denver on Sunday — paid off.
“Michael’s defense tonight and his length on Brandon Ingram was spectacular,” Malone said.
Eric Bledsoe had 16 points and nine assists, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 14 points for New Orleans. But each time the Pelicans showed signs of pulling away in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets responded.
When New Orleans took a 100-89 lead, Jokic hit a floater to ignite a 7-0 surge that ended with Murray’s steal and layup as he was fouled by Ingram.
After Williamson’s layup put the Pelicans up 102-96, Denver tied it with consecutive 3s by Porter and Paul Millsap.
“That’s some great examples of ball movement, guys being shot-ready and also guys passing up good shots to get great shots,” Malone said. “So, a really impressive comeback win for us on the road.”
New Orleans controlled much of the first three quarters, but the Nuggets tightened the game up with a 12-2 run that included Denver coach Mike Malone’s a successful challenge of a blocking call during a Williamson drive to the hoop.
The overturned call prevented Williamson from shooting free throws and Denver scored seven points on their next three possessions, with Jokic scoring four and Porter adding a 3.
Williamson, who hit a 3 early but scored most of his points on aggressive moves to the hoop, helped New Orleans rebuild one last double digit lead before Denver buckled down late, particularly on defense.
“We got the stops when we needed,” Jokic said. “That’s how we won the game.”
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Nuggets: Jokic has scored at least 30 points 16 times this season. … Have won seven of eight road games. … Scored 20 second-chance points, helped by 11 offensive rebounds. … Millsap scored 16 points. … Shot 50.5% for the game (47 of 93) and 50% from 3-point range (14 of 28). … Outscored New Orleans in the paint 54-46.
Pelicans: Williamson reached 21 points on a driving left-handed floater off the glass early in the third quarter, giving him 22 straight games with at least 20 points, building on his NBA record for the most such games in a row for a player under 21 years old. … Williamson has reached 30 points 11 times this season. .. Ingram finished with 13 points. … Jaxson Hayes nullified his own reverse alley-oop dunk in the first half when he caused the rim to snap back up in a way that caused the net to flip the ball back out of the hoop. … Shot 50% (39 of 78) overall and 41.4% (12 of 29) from deep. … Turned the ball over 15 times, leading to 23 Denver points.
Jokic did not go to the foul line once and Denver’s top three scorers had just two foul shots combined. In all, Denver attempted just seven free throws, which seemed to bother Malone.
“I think sometimes the calls may be missed,” Malone said. “Nikola played 41 minutes and was unable to get to the free throw line at all. … We have to find a way to put more pressure on the rim and put more pressure on the officials.”
Nuggets: Host Atlanta on Sunday in the first of two home dates in three days.
Pelicans: Host Dallas in Saturday night in what could be JJ Redick’s first game against New Orleans since being traded by the Pelicans to Mavericks.