Luka Doncic faded back and sized up his MVP defender. As spectacular as Nikola Jokic was Monday night, not even he could contend with Doncic’s trademark shot.
The Dallas Mavericks snapped Denver’s five-game winning streak, knocking off the Nuggets 111-101 on the second night of a back-to-back. Since 2018-19, the Nuggets owned the best record in the NBA on no rest, but they fell to 28-12 in such situations with Monday’s loss.
Jokic poured in a season-high 35 points on 15-of-26 shooting. His 16 rebounds were also a team-high, and his six assists were second only to Monte Morris’ eight.
But Doncic (23 points, 11 assists) was sensational. The Mavericks outscored the Nuggets 32-18 in the fourth quarter, starting with a run on Denver’s second unit. That extended to the Nuggets’ starters, who faded down the stretch.
“They started off on a 14-2 run to start that fourth quarter, so when you allow a run like that, that means obviously you’re not defending, you’re not scoring, you’re not executing,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Dallas’ bench outscored Denver’s 27-16 in the loss.
Now 9-5 on the season, the Nuggets get a few days off before Thursday’s home game against Philadelphia.
The Mavs whittled what was once a 13-point, third-quarter deficit to just 81-77 heading into the final quarter. Kristaps Porzingis rained in 12 of his 29 points in the third quarter alone, as Jokic did his best to keep up with his streaky outside shooting.
Whether it was Dwight Powell, Boban Marjanovic or Willie Cauley-Stein, Jokic made light work of his defensive matchup, baiting and dancing his way into easy baskets. He was sitting on 25 points on 11-of-16 from the field heading into the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets needed every bit of that scoring punch without Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton, who both missed Monday’s game with low back pain. It was Porter’s fifth consecutive missed game and Barton’s second. Second-year forward Zeke Nnaji missed Monday’s contest, too, with an ankle injury.
Despite their uncanny success on back-to-backs, Malone was still anxious about Monday’s set.
“You get to bed late (after Sunday’s win vs. Portland), try to give these guys some rest during the day, and then you get them prepared mentally,” Malone said. “You have a walk-through, you watch some film, watch their personnel and you remind them why we were able to beat them the last game that we played them.”
In their first meeting this season, Denver’s defense showed out.
On Monday, Denver’s 58-49 halftime lead was buoyed by Jokic, but he was hardly alone. Morris scored 11 in the first half, predominantly off his mid-range mastery, and Aaron Gordon added nine points and three rebounds. Jokic had a team-high 13 points and 10 rebounds, his production helping to take the sting out of 30 combined points from Porzingis and Doncic.
When Jokic sat, reserve Bol Bol played perhaps his most significant minutes of the season. He was active on both ends of the floor, contesting shots and finishing several looks inside. On one sequence, Bol challenged a Dallas dunk attempt and then hammered home a transition dunk. The two-way play got his teammates up and drew an inspired applause from Malone.
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