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Surging Nuggets win seventh in a row following Michael Malone’s ejection

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Nuggets coach Michael Mal­one brought the fire. The rest of the guys brought the pain.

Fol­low­ing Malone’s sec­ond-quar­ter ejec­tion Wednes­day night against the Spurs, the Nuggets played with a pas­sion their coach has begged for. It trans­lat­ed to a 106–96 win – Denver’s sev­enth con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ry and its 16th in 19 games. Now 33–18, the Nuggets will test their streak, again, against the Spurs on Friday.

Niko­la Jokic more than made up for the absence of Jamal Mur­ray with anoth­er superla­tive night. Play­ing a more aggres­sive brand of bas­ket­ball than usu­al, Jokic fin­ished with 25 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. While Mur­ray missed his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game with knee sore­ness, Jokic cut the Spurs’ defense apart with out­landish pass­es and unmatched touch.

Michael Porter Jr. poured in 18 points and snatched 10 rebounds to aid Denver’s marked rebound­ing advan­tage (53–42), but Wednesday’s win was a col­lec­tive effort. In just his sec­ond start of the sea­son, Facun­do Cam­paz­zo authored sev­er­al high­light dimes to big men JaMy­chal Green and JaVale McGee. Both reserves played cru­cial min­utes as Paul Mill­sap (rest) missed the game as well.

AP21098069275833 - Surging Nuggets win seventh in a row following Michael Malone’s ejection
Jack Dempsey, The Asso­ci­at­ed Press

Den­ver Nuggets coach Michael Mal­one reacts to being eject­ed dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of the team’s NBA bas­ket­ball game against the San Anto­nio Spurs on Wednes­day, April 7, 2021, in Denver.

But with assis­tant Wes Unseld Jr. pulling the strings in place of Mal­one, the Nuggets could point to their suf­fo­cat­ing sec­ond-half defense as the pri­ma­ry rea­son for the win. The Spurs man­aged just 46 points total in the sec­ond half.

The Nuggets looked shell-shocked the first four min­utes of the third quar­ter. San Anto­nio exposed the dri­ving lanes and pen­e­trat­ed with ease. Before the Nuggets showed up for the sec­ond half, the Spurs had already reeled off a 12–0 run.

But then Jokic showed why he deserves the respect his coach clam­ored for. Jokic either scored or assist­ed on 13 con­sec­u­tive points, includ­ing a dev­as­tat­ing, twirling dance around Jakob Poeltl that was the equiv­a­lent of a big man ankle break­er. There were oth­er momen­tum plays, includ­ing Campazzo’s clutch 3‑pointer and a sequence where Aaron Gor­don wrest­ed away a loose ball, then served it to Jokic for a sim­ple bank.

The Nuggets flipped a 10-point deficit into an 81–74 lead going into the fourth.

Den­ver went into the break with some fire­works, and they didn’t come from any of the play­ers. With 5:32 left in the first half, Mal­one explod­ed off the bench after he felt Jokic got mugged on a turnover. Mal­one momen­tar­i­ly blocked the path of the offi­cial, then tried to charge toward him while Nuggets assis­tant Wes Unseld Jr. held him back. The out­burst got Mal­one eject­ed, and he didn’t leave the court with­out impart­ing a few choice words.

Before the game, Mal­one said he’d implored his guys to defend instead of rely­ing on their elite offense to car­ry them.

“If we’re seri­ous about win­ning a cham­pi­onship, we have to start devel­op­ing a lot more con­sis­tent defen­sive habits,” Mal­one said, cit­ing defen­sive con­tests and deflec­tions that had both dipped dur­ing their win­ning streak.

“Activ­i­ty, ener­gy, effort on top of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline will allow us to be a much bet­ter defen­sive team,” he said.

The Nuggets car­ried a 54–50 lead into the break fol­low­ing Malone’s eruption.

Jokic and Porter were instru­men­tal in build­ing the lead. Jokic dom­i­nat­ed inside, fin­ish­ing the first half with 15 points and six assists. Twice, he served as the cut­ter on bas­kets, flip­ping roles from his usu­al facil­i­tat­ing responsibilities.

Porter was a force on the glass. He had a team-high eight boards to go along with 15 points on 6‑of‑9 shoot­ing over the first two quar­ters. It felt like any time he hov­ered near the glass, there was a good chance he’d cor­ral a miss with his supe­ri­or length.

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