NEW YORK — For a moment late Sunday afternoon, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center was alive.
The Nets, down 22 midway through the fourth quarter, were flirting with a comeback. Michael Porter Jr. snuffed that miracle out with a corner 3-pointer with 3:23 remaining, and the Nuggets hung on to beat the Nets, 108-102. After dropping five of their last six games, it was a needed win.
Porter buried a game-high 28 points on five 3-pointers, Nikola Jokic registered his 28th triple-double of the season, and Jamal Murray, after a scorching start, poured in 25 points. Jokic ended Sunday’s back-to-back with 22 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists.
After a dispiriting showing on Saturday against the Knicks, the Nuggets headed across the bridge and responded. Now 48-24 on the season, and 18-18 away from Denver, the Nuggets will cap their five-game road trip with a visit to Washington on Wednesday. There, they’ll have a chance for their third win of the road trip.
Mikal Bridges paced the Nets with 23 points, and Brooklyn’s reserves logged 36 points to keep it close. But Denver poured in 52 points in the paint and won the rebounding battle, 40-33.
What had been Murray’s masterpiece turned into a performance by the Nuggets’ supporting cast. Denver hammered the Nets inside, exposing their size and lack of physicality. Aaron Gordon bulldozed for a dunk, then Jokic followed suit. His jam came off a clean pass from Porter at the elbow — and reenacted a play the duo had run numerous times except inverse. Porter got in on the act, too. He followed one of the few errant floaters from Jokic and hammered a put-back slam of his own. His unselfishness, on numerous occasions, helped fuel Denver’s run.
Bridges was Brooklyn’s rebuttal; his jumper gave the Nuggets fits as they clawed back into the game.
But with strong games from Denver’s stars, not to mention a revised bench unit featuring Zeke Nnaji’s return from a shoulder sprain, the Nuggets carried a 91-71 lead into the fourth.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone had a healthy fear of Sunday’s game owing to Denver’s recent loss to the Nets but also because of the afternoon start.
“I coached with New York for four years,” Malone said pre-game. “We used to feast on teams that would come in, enjoy the city and not be ready to play.”
The Nuggets planned to stay in New York on Sunday evening, and Malone hoped that would be enough to curtail any temptation to go out prior to contests against the Knicks and Nets.
“Back-to-back matinee games in New York is a cruel and unusual punishment,” Malone joked prior to the game.
Outside of approaching Brooklyn with the requisite maturity, Malone also insisted on cleaning up the glass, which had been a glaring issue over their last two games. Malone said he addressed it with his team, then shared that Denver was 9-15 on the season when it got out-rebounded compared to 38-9 when they held the edge on the glass.
“It correlates,” he said.
To their credit, the Nuggets did play with obligatory energy despite the early start, building a 63-48 lead at halftime. Furthermore, their 19-14 advantage on the boards spoke to their urgency after getting pounded on the glass against the Knicks.
Murray was the engine that made Denver sizzle. His 25 first-half points, with four 3-pointers, led all scorers. Murray did it at all three levels, catching fire in the first quarter for 20 points. By the end of his run, even Nets fans were crowing at his scoring binge.
But Murray got complementary performances from Jokic (10 points, seven assists) and Porter (15 points, seven rebounds) to help supplement the scoring. It was enough to bewilder Brooklyn’s defense early and momentarily erase the question marks that have cropped up over the last week and a half.
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