Recap: Nuggets escape near collapse, take 5 seed

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Indiana Pacers
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

My brain is melted after that game.

First Quarter

While it took the team a second to get scoring, well more accurately 75ish seconds, once they got going — they didn’t stop, at least initially. Joker exploited the hell out of the skill gap between him and Indiana Pacers’ starting center Goga Bitadze. He scored 6 points in about 2 minutes and didn’t miss a shot. Goga, on the other hand, had more airballs than makes. Indiana called a timeout after going down 10-2 in just 3 minutes.

The next few minutes were largely back and forth. Some Jokic and Gordon two man game; which is always fun to see, but nothing really remarkable happened until after the Nuggets lead was cut down to 14-10 and they went on a 7-0 run to push it up to 21-10. Another Indiana timeout later and we had the first subs of the game. Bones and Rivers for Green and Monte.

After that sub, the Nuggets continued to dominate and go on a run. It was absolutely hilarious watching Joker toy with the Pacers. He assisted on some threes, got some boards, and continued to score. By the time Indiana took yet another timeout, he had 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Nuggets as a whole started taking off really, they extended their run to a 20-0 run before Buddy Hield scored a finger roll to stop the unanswered run. At that point though, the Nuggets were already dominating. The full bench got in and hit 4 3s to lead the Nuggets to a 43-15 lead after the first quarter. The largest first quarter lead by any team this season. A nice breath of fresh air to be sure.

Second Quarter

Demarcus Cousins ended the first quarter with a three and started the second with putting the Pacers into a blender with a nice spin and lay up. Then made a bank shot and was up to 7 points on the game. The Pacers were keeping pace, but it was fine. A 28 point lead is a 28 point lead. Bryn Forbes knocked down a three to put the Nuggets at 50 points with 10 minutes left in the second, but also gave up an and-1 on the next possession to Jalen Smith. That put him at 6 points, and that was the leading scorer for the Pacers. Throw in a Keifer Sykes 3, and Malone called a timeout. It was close game, 50-25.

After that timeout, the bench’s lack of defense stayed evident as the Pacers continued to close the gap — even if only slightly. The bench scored, don’t get me wrong, but calling them traffic cones would be an insult to traffic control. Malone called another timeout at 54-34. With that, the Nuggets checked in their starters once again. The starters righted the ship momentarily, but there was still that lack of defense that the bench had; that carried over. It stayed for the remainder of the quarter, and having watched the Nuggets blow many a lead this year, it felt like they might blow it. The Nuggets were giving up far too many second chance points, and their 3 point defense wasn’t there either. Throw in some free throws for the Pacers and while the Nuggets were once up 31 — they went into the half only up 16. 69-53 at the half.

Third Quarter

The Nuggets opened the quarter in a way known as not ideal. They were outscored 6-3 with two turnover in the first minute and a half. The lead was cut down to 13, and Malone called a timeout. After that, things still didn’t look great. Fouls, missed shots, bad defense; basically everything that the Nuggets could do wrong they were. The lead was eventually cut down to 10, though the Nuggets did get it back to 16 after a Will Barton jumper and a Monte Morris 3 pointer.

However, that luck didn’t last. That whole defense thing I’ve been talking about? Yeah Nuggets still didn’t have that. The Pacers went on a 10-0 run and cut what was once a 31 point lead to 6 and the Nuggets called a timeout. Every starter but Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic was benched, but the Pacers kept going and got the lead. Going up 86-85 at the 3 minute mark. Jokic scored, but immediately got a tech after. He was then subbed out and after a foul from Boogie and 2 free throws from Jalen Smith, the score was tied again. After a couple more buckets were exchanged the score was all tied up heading into the final frame. 91-91.

Fourth Quarter

Well the fourth quarter opened with a lot of buckets but not a lot of defense from either side. The two teams were exchanging blows with the Nuggets coming off of a Bones 3 when Austin Rivers and Lance Stephenson both got technical fouls. Demarcus sent Lance Stephenson to the foul line, and he knocked one of two down. After, Austin picked up another technical and was ejected. Things were not looking up. Be it, Austin did not do anything wrong — Lance just simply flopped.

After that little debacle, Boogie picked up another offensive foul, and Malone subbed Jokic in. Jokic and Bones were really the only ones trying tonight. With him in the game, things immediately picked up and the Nuggets scored a quick 4 points; forcing the Pacers into a timeout with the Nuggets up 104-102. After the timeout, Joker scored an and-1 after an Aaron Gordon turnover. Jokic then threw two bad passes which resulted in turnover bringing his total up to 7 on the night and 18 for the team overall. The Nuggets just have had turnover issues as of late and they don’t seem to be letting up.

Joker had some free throws, Bones had a layup (and a turnover) to bring him to 16 points on the night. The Pacers had some free throws too, but the Nuggets were up 113-108 with just 3 minutes to go. It had been a rough game but if they could pull it out, it’s still at least a win. Joker kept scoring, and Bones kept chipping in; assisting on a AG 3 for his seventh assist of the game and scoring a putback layup for his 18th point and some free throws to get the rookie up to 20 points. Joker had 37 points on 19 shots to go along with 13 rebounds and 9 assists. Despite some head splitting close calls. The Nuggets escape this one with the win over the Indiana Pacers 125-118.

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