DENVER – There were things Michael Malone saw that could cost his team a game over the course of an eight-game win streak, but he couldn’t imagine it coming to an end the way it did Sunday at Ball Arena.
Boston snapped the streak 105-87 in a game that featured some eye-opening numbers.
“I didn’t foresee this,” Malone said. “Obviously you win games, but you can see the turnovers or the paint defense, things of that nature, but I didn’t anticipate a second-half collapse like we had today.”
The Nuggets needed less than seven minutes to open a double-digit lead and went on to take a 14-point advantage later in the first. Boston cut it to six by halftime, but the Nuggets got the lead back to 14 late in the third after a dominant stretch from Nikola Jokic, who finished with 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
“I remember going out in the third quarter with like three minutes left and we were up 14, and then like all of the sudden, they were up like 10,” Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. said afterward. “I don’t even really remember how it turned around like that, but this is just one of those games you put in the past and move on.”
What happened was a 31-3 run that ran from the final minutes of the third quarter and into the final four minutes of the fourth. The Nuggets finished with just eight points over the final 12 minutes. The run started with turnovers on four consecutive possessions late in the third and morphed into missed shots, a lack of effort on defense and complaining to the officials.
“We didn’t answer back,” Jokic said. “That’s a really physical team. That’s a really talented team. I think we needed to do a better job just answering the physicality, not just playing around and going through motions.”
It got to the point Jokic was pulled from the game with Boston up 14 with four minutes to go. Malone said it was partly due to his habit of running to the official to protest a no-call instead of getting back, while saving his star’s legs during a busy stretch of the season also factored in the decision.
“He gets frustrated with the referees and what he perceives to be a lack of calls, and you understand that. But that can never take you away from your duties as a basketball player,” Malone said. “That’s something that he, myself and all of us can definitely be better at. Mostly, the decision was just getting him out. We were still down (14) points at that time.”
Jayson Tatum did most of the damage to Denver, scoring a game-high 28 points, while Jaylen Brown added 20.
Porter led the Nuggets with 22 points but needed 23 shots to get there. He said he tweaked his hand on an early breakaway dunk and took a shot to the mouth, but he couldn’t blame either for a game he finished 1 of 12 from 3-point range.
“It’s not anything serious. It was on my shooting hand, but that’s not why I missed 11 3s. It was just one of those nights. Hopefully, I never have another one of those nights from 3 again in my career,” Porter said.
“I’m not going to dwell on it. I’m going to move right on and play tomorrow.”
Malone didn’t fault his shot selection afterward and echoed the sentiment from his young sharpshooter ahead of Monday’s game against Golden State.
“I could not foresee a 31-8 fourth quarter. I could not envision us just completely imploding. Obviously, we struggled to make shots,” Malone said.
“The best thing about the NBA, we get on a plane this afternoon, go to Golden State and try to right the ship and get back to playing at a much higher level than we played today.”