DENVER – Nikola Jokic started Friday’s game against Dallas at Ball Arena, and the Nuggets didn’t need him to finish it in a 106-75 win over the Mavericks.
A 33-12 advantage in the third quarter saw the Nuggets (3-2) start the fourth quarter with a 31-point lead, effectively ending Jokic’s night early. Denver’s second and third units handled the fourth quarter.
Jokic entered the day questionable to play with right knee contusion and finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in 25 minutes.
“I was feeling good. If there is a chance for me to play, I’m going to play,” Jokic said.
“I didn’t feel any weakness, so I was feeling really good.”
Steve Short, the Nuggets’ vice president or sports medicine, and the rest of the medical staff gave Jokic the green light after he went through some tests pregame.
“The reason I felt comfortable with him playing was, it wasn’t just Nikola stating that he was good,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Steve Short and our training staff felt very comfortable with him playing. They’ve been making him go through protocols and testing, different drills, and they felt that he was more than capable of getting out there and playing tonight.”
Will Barton III led the Nuggets with 17 points, while Jeff Green (14), Aaron Gordon (13) and Michael Porter Jr. (12) also scored in double figures for Denver.
Luka Doncic, the Mavericks’ star, also got the fourth quarter off and finished with 16 points on 18 shots. Gordon started on Doncic and received the team’s chain that’s awarded to the team’s best defender after a win. PJ Dozier picked up the assignment when Gordon sat.
“I thought Aaron and then PJ off the bench did a phenomenal job,” Malone said. “Luka is in a million pick-and-rolls, and you have to have a mindset of ‘I’m going to be into this guy. I’m going to chase him. I’m going to pursue him, and I’m going to really fight like hell to get back in front or at least get a rear-view pursuit and contest.’ I felt we had countless examples of that, just kind of harassing him. Luka’s a great player, and to have two big bodies in Aaron Gordon and PJ Dozier lead that charge, it was great to watch.”
The Nuggets held the Mavericks to 29.5% from the field, the first time since 2009 Denver has held an opponent under 30% from the field, according to Nuggets public relations.
“It felt good to finally get a win like that,” Green said. “How we did it, I think, was good for us for the outlook of the future. Defensively, I think we were great, all on the same page and we got stops when we needed to and we got off to a big lead.”
Green’s bucket with 1:03 left in the first quarter gave the Nuggets a 12-point lead, but the hosts’ next score came nearly three minutes into the second quarter. The Mavericks used a 13-0 run to briefly take a lead before Green finished in transition to end the drought.
The Nuggets answered with a 17-3 run fueled by corner 3s from PJ Dozier, who hit his shot off a no-look cross-court feed from Jokic, and Austin Rivers. The Nuggets led by as many as 17 points in the first half and took a 54-44 lead to halftime.
The Nuggets needed fewer than four minutes of the third quarter to get the lead back to 17 after a Monte Morris bucket. Gordon and Jokic hit 3-pointers as the Nuggets increased the lead to 87-56 to start the fourth quarter. The Nuggets led by 35 early in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Bones Hyland and reserve center Bol Bol gave the home fans something to cheer for in the fourth quarter. Hyland hit a 3-pointer less than a minute after he checked into the game and later added a second. Bol came up with a steal off an entry pass and finished an alley-oop from Rivers in the final three minutes.
“It was good for them to get some run,” Green said of the third unit. “You know, Bol is very, very talented. At his size, he can dribble. He can shoot. He can put it on the floor. He has great touch. Bones is tremendous with his speed, the way he can shoot, his intelligence for the game.”
The Nuggets return to action Saturday in Minnesota, and Jokic plans to play as long as he’s allowed.
“I think I’m good,” Jokic said.