Spurs' Victor Wembanyama flirts with quadruple-double, but Nikola Jokic scores 42 in narrow Nuggets win

Bennett Durando, The Denver Post on

Published in Basketball

DENVER — One player is making Denver’s potential season sweep of the lowly Spurs feel almost as difficult as it was to sweep the mighty Lakers and Warriors.

Already looking like one of the league’s best players in the twilight of his rookie season, Victor Wembanyama flirted with a quadruple-double Monday night while the Nuggets struggled to deliver San Antonio a decisive blow. But Nikola Jokic was relentless in his efforts to solve the Wembanyama puzzle, amassing 42 points and 16 rebounds in a 110-105 win.

Michael Porter Jr. sank the game-winning 3 with 26.7 seconds remaining on an assist from Christian Braun.

The Nuggets (53-23) still must go through San Antonio one more time in their penultimate game as they battle for the top seed in the Western Conference. Joel Embiid did Denver a favor in his return from a meniscus injury Monday, beating Oklahoma City to leave the Thunder (52-23), Nuggets and Timberwolves (52-23) all tied in the loss column.

Wembanyama finished the night with 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and nine blocks.

When they faced off in Austin (no, not San Antonio) two weeks ago, Jokic adjusted to Wembanyama’s unnatural length by altering his shot arc, often taking a running start from the perimeter to receive entry passes and operating from a front-facing floater game that allowed him to calculate how high he needed to get his shot in the air. This time, he made it his immediate mission to out-run Wemby’s wingspan. Whenever Jokic wasn’t grabbing the defensive rebound, he was leaking out in transition.


In one compelling sequence, Wembanyama drove and scored around Jokic with left-handed scoop shot. Jokic hurried the ball up the floor. Wembanyama picked him up as he crossed half, then Jokic established himself on the right block. He seemingly bested the rookie with a post move but was viciously blocked anyway on the layup attempt. By the time Wembanyama cleaned up a miss for an easy bucket at the other end, Jokic was already cherry-picking at the timeline, beckoning for a quick inbound from Aaron Gordon. He sprinted to the rim with Wembanyama in pursuit and dunked it with conviction, with not a split second to spare.

When there was finally a dead ball, the two big men patted each other on the back and shared an exhausted laugh while they both asked for sweat towels.

Jokic’s 13 shot attempts at the end of the first quarter included four 3-point shots and three dunks, the latter tying a career record for a single quarter. He and Wembanyama combined for 47% of field goal attempts and 51% of points in the quarter.

The game missed them when they were absent. San Antonio and Denver traded 7-0 runs to begin a clunky second quarter, both resulting in timeouts by the other coach. The Spurs flipped a 37-30 deficit into a 46-39 lead then coughed it up by halftime. They entered the game 1-20 on the road when tied or trailing at half this season. But they opened up their largest lead in Monday’s third quarter, 74-65, before going on a four-minute scoring drought. Jokic spearheaded a 15-0 run with a full-court inbound pass to Justin Holiday for a corner 3-pointer, and with a backdoor lob to Gordon, who scored 23 points on 12 shots.

Michael Malone used Gordon at backup five to start the fourth quarter, and Denver built a 10-point lead — that San Antonio swiftly erased with a late 8-0 run.

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