Recap: Nikola Jokic and Nuggets struggle; blow 19 point lead as they fall below .500 for the holidays

Charlotte Hornets v Denver Nuggets
Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nuggets blew a 19 point lead. It was awful to watch, and I don’t feel like talking about it at length, but it’s my job. Nikola Jokic’s counting stats look impressive, but he did not play well. He shot an awful 13 of 34 from the field, and that’s 21 missed shots. The bench didn’t play well the second half. The defense was erratic at points, and just no one played that well. It just was not a good night to be a Nuggets fan. I feel like I’ve been thinking that a lot lately, but this night stung because of that lead. I just have a hard time putting it into words the mediocrity that this team has embodied throughout this season. Jokic has to be better next game, Barton has to be better next game, Bones has to be better next game, the team has to be better next game. This was an awful Christmas present for the fans.

First Quarter

The start to this game was awful to say the least, the Nuggets played sloppy and up until the first timeout with about 8 minutes left in the first quarter, the Nuggets had only shot 2-8 from the field. The only Nugget to have made a shot was Nikola Jokic and he was shooting 2-6. They started with Monte Morris on Lamelo Ball and that was not a good decision, but overall the Nuggets just weren’t good on defense. The first stint of the game ended with a alley-oop from Terry Rozier to Miles Bridges which forced Malone into a timeout.

After that the bench eventually trickled in and Jokic continued to struggle. At about the 3:30 mark, he was shooting 3-11 in the first quarter. He was uncharacteristically struggling. However, Austin Rivers made two threes out of nowhere — he made it a 4 point game. 20-16 was the score and Charlotte was leading, but it was closer now.

However, the basketball gods weren’t going to be that merciful. The Nuggets immediately gave up two buckets, one specific one was a putback after the Nuggets had already given up another offensive rebound. They went down to double digits again, but then something weird happened — the bench was good. Facu hit a three, Austin Rivers hit another three, and then Zeke cleaned up around the rim twice. Suddenly, the bench had the Nuggets up. Towards the end of the quarter Miles Bridges hit some free throws to put the Hornets back up by one, but unlike the start of the quarter — the Nuggets had life.

Second Quarter

To start the quarter, the Nuggets bench kept their momentum up. It was really odd seeing that the bench was the unit carrying the Nuggets, but they just were. Jamychal Green hit a pair of threes, Vlatko hit one, Bones hit one. Everyone was contributing. The Hornets kept up though, thanks to a couple of Jalen McDaniels buckets. In total however, the bench had scored 25 points before the first timeout of the second quarter. They played some really great ball.

After that, the score was 41-40, Charlotte lead. The starters then came back in, except Facu. Jeff Green then scored 3 straight dunks and the Nuggets went up. Facu airballed a three, but Jokic (who has become an octopus this season) got it immediately and put it straight back up. He then hit a post move and scored. Jokic was starting to hit his rhythm and the Nuggets had gotten up to a lead of 50-44 with 3:30 remaining in the second quarter.

It was at this point — the Nuggets just straight up went nuclear. It started with yet another Nikola Jokic putback. He finished the half with 12 points and 16 rebounds. Vlatko dished in 2 layups to bring his total up to 9 points in the half. Monte hit a 3, and Facu rounded it out with 2 3s. The vibes were starting to be immaculate and the Nuggets also played good defense. This resulted in a 65-52 lead for the Nuggets going into halftime.

Third Quarter

The first stint of the third quarter also went the Nuggets way. Jeff Green and Vlatko both contributed early on with Jokic putting in a couple of rebounds and a basket off a Will Barton assist. Will then made two shot in a row after the lead had gotten down to only 10. With those two, including a three, the lead was up to 17. 78-61, Charlotte timeout. This game was starting to look good.

The second stint started with a basket from Miles Bridges, but Nikola Jokic immediately responded with a bucket of his own. Lamelo Ball got fouled on a 3, Nikola Jokic immediately responded with a 3 of his own. Lamelo Ball hit a floater, Jokic immediately responded with a bucket of his own. Kelly Oubre hit a 3, Jokic assisted on a 3 to Will Barton. Then Jokic took a charge against Lamelo and Will Barton hit a midrange jumper on the other end. That pushed the lead up to 19. The game was starting to look gooder.

After that stint, the rest of the quarter went more or less the same way. The Nuggets were good, the Hornets were not. Nuggets take a 94-77 lead into the final frame.

Fourth Quarter

The fourth quarter started less than ideally. Bones missed a corner 3, then Facu airballed for the second time in the game. Then Charlotte took advantage and Kelly Oubre hit a 3. Then hit a 4 point play. Austin Rivers managed to calm things down a little bit with a runner, but after a couple of missed 3s on both sides, Kelly Oubre came out and scored an and-1. Malone called a timeout and the lead was down to 10. Not great.

Kelly Oubre then hit his free throw, knocking the lead down to single digits. Bones tried to respond but he struggled all game long, and his shot got blocked. At that point he was just 1 of 8 from the field and 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. Then he fouled Ish Smith, and the starters had to come back in. In a game where the bench was looking so good, they struggled when all they had to do was not blow a 19 point lead. However, they had let the lead get down to just 7.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for the starters. Jokic scored a bucket, but then the Hornets got a couple more points from Kelly Oubre, Terry Rozier hit a 3, and McDaniels also scored. So the lead was whittled down to just 2. It was ugly. Will Barton got fouled and hit one of his free throws. However, PJ Washington then hit a 3 and it was a tied game. Facu then drew a foul on the other end, and he sunk both of his free throws. Then Kelly Oubre, who I feel I’ve said his name more in this article than in my life up until this point, hit a runner. Jokic got blocked on the other end, and then PJ Washington hit a 3 to put the Hornets up 3. Malone calls a timeout after the Nuggets blew a 19 point lead. It sucked.

For whatever reason, the Nuggets just weren’t getting the ball to Jokic, but eventually he did get it and score. However, Jeff Green fouled Terry Rozier on a jumper; on the bright side he did miss one though. Jeff Green got a tip in. Then they had an opportunity to take the lead but instead of giving it to the MVP, Will Barton Jeff Green and Facu just kind of passed it around for a while and then Will chucked up a heavily contested runner and on the other end PJ Washington hit a 3. The Nuggets were down 3 once again. Jokic then sunk a couple of free throw, but the Hornets immediately scored after, Malone calls a timeout and the Nuggets are down by 3; 110-107. The tidings did not turn unfortunately and the Nuggets lose, final of 115-107.

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