SAN FRANCISCO – Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon sent the ball to center Nikola Jokic with 3.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors and tied the score.
Jokic took three dribbles down the right side of the court and then launched a 39-foot 3-pointer over the head of Warriors center Kevon Looney.
From the Nuggets bench's perspective, it looked dead.
“When I let go of his hands, all the coaches back there said, 'This is on the line. This is in,'” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
“I don't know if it was something in my gut or what, but I knew we weren't going to go to the OR. I knew Joker was going to make that shot,” forward Peyton Watson said.
him too. Jokic's shot hit the glass and crashed in to give the Nuggets a 130-127 win over the Warriors. Even Jokic knew he was going in.
“That was the last option on that play,” Jokic said. “I just hit it. I think those shots are the easiest. You don't have any other options. So actually, when I felt it, I thought, 'Oh, I'm going to believe this.' You could see the flight of the ball, and I knew I was going to hit it.”
That was the decisive shot as the Nuggets went on a 25-4 run over the final 6:45 of the game, including a 13-0 run.
“The thing with Nicola is I like the fact that he got there and got ready and hit his shot,” Gordon said. “He doesn't let the defense change things at all. When he makes his shot, there's always a chance to make it.”
Jokic scored 34 points on 13 of 15 shooting, 10 assists and 9 rebounds. Gordon added 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting, and goaltender Jamal Murray scored 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
But heading into the fourth quarter, Denver trailed by 18 points, after the Warriors beat the Nuggets 44-24 in the third quarter.
The Nuggets said they expect Golden State to do their best, especially after scoring 70 points in the first half, including 42 points, the most points the Warriors have allowed in the first half this season.
The Warriors' third quarter was one of their best of the season. Their 75% shooting from the field was their best mark in any quarter so far, and their +20 point differential was the second best in any quarter (+21 in the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns on October 24).
The Nuggets never hung their heads, Gordon said. During each timeout, they were positive, pushing with a one stop, one point, one stop, one point mentality so they could level the field.
Malone said he's extremely proud of that mentality and his team's ability to withstand Golden State's pressure.
“They came out in the third quarter very aggressive and we didn't get it. They came after us,” Malone said. “I said: OK, that's enough. Our backs are against the ball. We have to go now, and then we became the aggressors. We became the team that tackled the ball, pushed, attacked, and we became more physical.
“The more aggressive team will win… I felt like when the game was on the line, we were the more aggressive team.”
This is the seventh time this season that the Warriors have led by 10 or more points and still lost. This is their fourth time with a difference of at least 18 points.
“The defense was amazing in the fourth period,” Jokic said. “We didn't want to give up. It would have been easy to make excuses for losing that game…but the guys didn't put their heads down. We were really aggressive. They only scored four points. That's really good defense.” Especially against this team.”
Arguably the most important defensive play of the night came just seconds before Jokic's game-winning shot.
With 6.2 seconds left, Murray intercepted a cross-court pass attempt from Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
“Jamal read this situation well,” Jokic said.
Malone tried to call a timeout immediately but it was not granted until Murray dribbled. Therefore, the Nuggets had to punt the ball from three-quarters of the court.
Malone had three plays in mind. The first will be Murray on the strong side on the sideline. The second was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope fly by Jokic at half court. The third was Gordon hitting Jokic, and hoping the two-time MVP and Finals MVP could make something happen.
The last is what happened. But there was no panic, especially from Jokic, as he fished out his shot with less than four seconds to find it.
“I wish I could tell you [that’s how I drew it up]. “But this is just a great player making a great play,” Malone said. “Nicola lives for those moments. It's great and exhilarating to watch a player of his talent go out there and make the plays he does.”
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