Memphis – The effort was there. On Wednesday, it was Denver’s 3-point defense that left it.
The Grizzlies rained down almost half of their 3-pointers, sinking the Nuggets in a 108-106 loss. The Grizzlies are now 4-4 in Denver’s season after beating the Nuggets for the second time in three nights.
Down two with less than 10 seconds left, Nikola Jokic had a chance to send it to overtime. Jokic worked inside Jaren Jackson Jr., eventually trimming down his game-tying look a bit. Jokic thought he had failed in this attempt.
Still, Jokic was sensational. He finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds, taking the Nuggets on the verge of victory on the road.
“I just told my people, Nicola isn’t a good player, (he’s) a great player,” Malone said. “But every time he comes out, everything falls apart. It’s every night. I walked up to him in the fourth quarter, I called his name, and he looked at me like, ‘Already?’ And I feel for him. … Nikola will wear out at this rate by Christmas.”
Without Will Barton’s bounce-back game, the Nuggets would never have been within striking distance in the fourth. His 26-point, seven-assist effort was with Jokic the only other credible offensive contributor.
They’ll be back on that Saturday when they host the Rockets at Ball Arena.
But Memphis buried 16 of his 34 3-point looks, including five debilitating Jacksons. The Grizzlies’ bench also trailed Denver 34-17.
Equally slippery was Jay Morant, wrapped around Aaron Gordon in the third quarter. The Grizzlies’ superstar guard easily penetrated through a series of screens and defenders en route to several circus finishes. Morant finished with 18 points, six assists and six rebounds.
But Barton left the first half, where he fired three-pointers to help extend Denver’s lead to 83-73 with 40 seconds left in the third. Perhaps in the highlight of the game, Facu Campazzo slammed for a defensive rebound and flicked it ahead of a waiting Bones Hyland. The rookie sank it, and the Nuggets extended an 83-78 lead to fourth.
Malone continued to support Michael Porter Jr., despite his ongoing shooting struggles. He admitted that there was a mental depression he had to overcome.
“With Michael I never understood whether he was nervous or doubting himself,” Malone said. “Obviously we are not used to seeing Michael start the season like this after seven games. I have no doubt that he will be able to pull himself out of it.
“I thought he had some really good hustle drama that night,” Malone said. “Flying around, defensively, rebounding basketballs. The constant message with Michael is ‘Don’t allow your shot to affect every other aspect of your game,’ because if you allow it, So basically what you’re saying is, ‘You’re just an expert.’ …we have a much bigger demand for Michael Porter than just being able to shoot.
Porter finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
It was a minor miracle, after Wednesday’s disappointing first quarter, with the Nuggets only going down 56-55 at halftime. Down 20 points at a time, the Nuggets held onto the defense and attacked the paint during a furious run in the second quarter.
Barton, in particular, was a threat inside. He scored 13 points and four assists in the first half. His slick playmaking opened the floor for Porter, and his hustle struck a weak defense.
Barton, Gordon, and PJ Dozier all registered speed-stunting blocks in the first two quarters—the energy hitting the road with badly needed nuggets. With 13 points in the first half and four rebounds of his own, Jokic finally found some support. Denver’s 36-19 second quarter was an encouraging response, when the Grizzlies threatened to kick the Nuggets out of the building early.