Nuggets Rockets Basketball

Denver Nuggets assistant coach Popeye Jones, filling in for coach Michael Malone, gestures during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

The celebration might have been a bit much for Popeye Jones.

After Jones, acting as head coach Friday with Michael Malone and a few Denver assistants in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, got his first win in the form of a 124-111 victory over the Rockets, the Nuggets loaded up on water bottles and doused their coach for the night when he returned to the locker room.

“We went crazy on him. We throw water,” Facundo Campazzo said after having a career night in the win. “We were very happy for him, because we’ve got a lot of injured players. Now, our head coach is out with COVID, assistant coach with COVID, so somehow we’ve got to hide that with more unity.”

The soaked coach then accepted a game ball from Nikola Jokic.

“I’m blessed to be a part of this organization,” Jones said.

The first-year Nuggets assistant has spent a lot of time in the league, playing for six different teams, including Denver, in an 11-year career before transitioning to coaching. One piece of coaching advice he’s received is to avoid being someone he’s not around the team.

“My personality is kind of laid back. It’s not real fiery, so I just try to coach to my personality,” Jones said. “You’ve got to keep everybody calm, try to stay positive and tell them to keep pushing.”

That disposition may have paid off Saturday with Jones only having a day to prepare. David Adelman was slated to serve as head coach before he joined the list of Nuggets players and coaches in the health and safety protocols. The Rockets jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter with the Nuggets struggling to guard Houston’s explosive starting backcourt of Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green before the tide turned.

“It’s a thrill. I knew it would be. You wait for this moment, and it’s a lot of fun. A lot of fun, guys,” Jones said.

“You hate the circumstances, but, you know, like coach told me, take advantage of the opportunity. It was a lot of fun.”

He didn’t have much to worry about after the Nuggets led by 22 at halftime. Denver led by as many as 31 in the second half and sailed into the post-game celebration.

“It’s really cool, man. It’s good for Popeye to get his first win,” Aaron Gordon said. “We really wanted that for him.”

The water bath was the extent of Jones’s celebration for the night. After all, Luka Doncic and the Mavericks could stand in the way of his second win if other coaches aren’t available Monday in Dallas.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Jones said. “Nothing to celebrate, just go watch film and try to clean things up and get ready for another game.”

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