Nuggets turn back skidding Grizzlies
DENVER — When Paul Millsap went down, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone pulled aside Nikola Jokic with a request — lead this team.
“I think he’s taking it to heart,” Malone said. “He’s looking to encourage, he’s looking to be positive and he’s looking to use his voice.”
The soft-spoken center doesn’t like to do it with his words, so he did it with his play and rescued the Nuggets on Friday night.
Jokic had 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter as Denver survived a Memphis rally to beat the Grizzlies 104-92 on Friday night.
Jokic added 13 rebounds and eight assists to just miss his first triple-double of the season. Gary Harris and Jamal Murray scored 15 apiece and Kenneth Faried had 14 points and nine rebounds to help Denver improve to 8-2 at home this season.
The Nuggets (11-8) were playing their first home game since Millsap went down with a left wrist injury in Sunday’s loss at the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver is planning to be without its second-leading scorer for a few months, with surgery likely to repair ligament damage in the joint.
Millsap has been a steadying, veteran presence and a go-to player when the Nuggets need a basket. Someone has to fill that void, and Malone wants it to be the 22-year-old Jokic.
“Without Paul Millsap he is that go-to player, not only to score but to make plays for everybody else,” Malone said. “He’s accepting the challenge to be a leader, and being a leader isn’t easy because you’ve got to do the right thing every time. Nikola is ready to do that for us.”
He played the role well Friday to help Denver hold off the struggling Grizzlies. Memphis (7-11) has lost seven in a row for the first time since Nov. 1-11, 2009.
“We’ve got to find a way to win, we’ve got to find a way to do what we’re supposed to do and help your teammates and not try to take the game upon yourself,” said Marc Gasol, who had 15 points and a career-high 14 assists in the loss. “It is a frustrating one for sure. It’s a frustrating stretch but we’ve got to keep going.”
JaMychal Green scored a season-high 21 points and Tyreke Evans had 15 off the bench for the Grizzlies.
Jokic came through after the Grizzlies trimmed a 20-point deficit in the third quarter to two points heading into the fourth. He scored the first six points of the quarter to put Denver up 82-74, assisted on a layup by Harris and then hit a 3-pointer to make it 92-81 with 5:43 left. Jokic finished the quarter with a three-point play that made it 102-89 with 1:10 left.
Jokic sees himself as a role player, not one that has to speak up more with Millsap out.
“Maybe in the huddles I say something more but I say it just because to help the team, it’s not to become a leader,” he said. “I don’t want to say something just to be a leader. We have enough players - Wilson (Chandler), Gary, Will Barton — I just want to help my team, that’s it.”
The Grizzlies shot 50 percent in the fourth quarter but had five turnovers and allowed six offensive rebounds.
“The possession game crushed us,” Memphis coach David Fizdale said. “Too many offensive rebounds and turned the ball over too many times. You just cannot hand over that many possessions.”
The Nuggets shot 65.8 percent from the floor in the first half and built an 18-point lead with a 10-2 run late in the second quarter.
Jokic scored eight of his 13 first-half points in the final 3:21 of the second quarter to help Denver go up 61-45 at intermission.
“He’s been great for us, on both ends of the floor,” Harris said. “That’s what he does.”
The Nuggets were 5 of 20 from the field in the third quarter and were outscored 29-15.
NOTES: The Nuggets shot better from 3-point range (46.2 percent) than from the foul line (38.5 percent) in the first half. They finished the game shooting 28.1 percent from long range and 57.7 percent from the line. ... The Grizzlies had a season-low 23 rebounds and only 10 at halftime. It was their low for any half this season. ... Memphis F Brandan Wright missed his third straight game with a groin injury. ... Nuggets C Wilson Chandler was in the lineup despite dealing with lower back pain that kept him out of Monday’s win over Sacramento. ... The Grizzlies are 0-6 without guard Mike Conley, who is out indefinitely with a sore left Achilles.