Nuggets dominate clutch minutes again to spoil Lakers' celebration of LeBron James scoring milestone

Bennett Durando, The Denver Post on

Published in Basketball

LOS ANGELES — The clutch-time Nuggets spoiled another landmark night for the Lakers.

On the night LeBron James became the first player to ever score 40,000 career points, Denver came back from an 11-point deficit for a 124-114 win, the team’s sixth consecutive since the All-Star break, on Saturday night.

Nikola Jokic went for 35 points and 10 rebounds. Michael Porter Jr. added an immaculate 25 without missing a single shot. He was 10 for 10 in the game, including 5 for 5 from beyond the arc.

The Nuggets (42-19) have won eight consecutive games against the Lakers.

They entered the fourth quarter of this one tied at 89 and needing a key stretch from the second unit. It mostly delivered, until the very end of Jokic’s rest minutes. Peyton Watson supplied four points and an emphatic block as the Nuggets took a five-point lead, but James nullified the block by absorbing contact with Zeke Nnaji for an and-one. He missed the free throw that would’ve tied the game, but a Denver turnover seconds later led to a go-ahead James 3. Timeout Michael Malone, down two.

Enter Jokic. Cue clutch finish for Nuggets starters.


They trailed 108-105 as clutch time officially began in the last five minutes. Justin Holiday sank a 3-pointer while playing for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, out for personal reasons. Aaron Gordon finally cashed in on an open corner 3 for the lead. Then Jokic and Jamal Murray took over again. The game ended on a 19-6 run.

Public and media anticipation surrounding the final meeting of the regular season between these teams wasn’t particularly concerned with the matchup or its implications. Denver was going into a building sold out by box score watchers experiencing LeBron Fever. He entered the game an inevitable nine points away from the never-achieved milestone, and for the first quarter and change, that was the primary focus every time he had the ball. Malone was effusive in his praise of James while fielding a handful of questions about him pregame, but in terms of the moment itself, the ninth-year Nuggets coach was definitive.

“I’m just worried about us,” he said. “I don’t get into all the other stuff. We’ve won five in a row.”

He had plenty to be worried about in the first timeout huddle after James reached 40,000 by driving past Porter for a layup. The Nuggets had turned it over six times in 15 minutes, and their defense wasn’t rising to match the Lakers’ level of intensity. Los Angeles had 15 assists before its second turnover. All five starters had nine or more points at halftime, while Denver wasn’t getting efficient production from Jamal Murray or Aaron Gordon.

Murray, a last-second decision to play after spraining his right ankle Thursday, looked like he was close to finding a rhythm late in the second quarter. His uptick in scoring and play-making after halftime was critical to Denver’s ability to quickly erase a double-digit deficit. He finished with a 24-point, 11-assist double-double.

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