DENVER — This game has always been, and will always be about getting buckets.
Uncle Drew’s famed one-liner rang true at Pepsi Center Saturday, as the Nuggets came out of the gates cold and heated up over the next three quarters, but Kemba Walker and the Hornets hit shots and put together a stingy defensive performance as Charlotte topped Denver 112-102.
The Nuggets came into tonight’s matchup shooting 46.3 percent from the field on the year. Denver shot 36 percent to begin the game, 50 percent in the second, 50 percent again in the third and 47.6 percent in the fourth. The things was, the Hornets shot the lights out of Pepsi Center tonight. Charlotte converted on just 45.6 percent of their field goals, but shot nearly 60 percent from distance. The Nuggets went 9-30 from three, one of their worst shooting performances of the year.
Charlotte also collected 13 offensive rebounds, many of which led to wide open threes.
“I think they probably had close to five or six threes off of offensive rebounds,” Michael Malone said. “So a lot of those were off kick-outs off the glass.”
It’s a make or miss league and tonight was just one of those nights. Charlotte dug in defensively when it mattered and Denver had no answer.
“We were 2-10 on wide open threes in the first half,” Malone said. “They’re a good defensive team. Cliff does a good job, but I think we missed a lot of good shots.”
Nikola Jokic scored 31 points on 13-15 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds in 32 minutes. Jokic did it all by himself on offense. He finished with just three assists as Denver missed a bunch of open shots. Danilo Gallinari finished with 20 points and rookie Jamal Murray scored 14 points off the bench.
“I think at times we became stagnant,” Malone said. “It’s easy to stand. It’s hard to cut and cut and cut, and when you don’t get it, keep cutting.”
Like the Nuggets have over their five games since the All-Star break, and really as they’ve done since Dec. 15, Denver was able to get good shots throughout the first quarter. The different was, those shots just didn’t go in. The Nuggets could only muster 23 points in the quarter on 36 percent shooting, whereas Charlotte scored 31 and converted 50 percent of their shots in the period.
Jokic did get off to a good start, though, scoring six points to go with three rebounds over the first 12 minutes.
Denver managed to get into a little bit of a groove offensively in the second, as Murray scored eight points in the quarter, including two threes. The Nuggets shot exactly 50 percent from the field in the second. Gallinari also shouldered much of the offensive load leading up to halftime as well. The swingman scored eight points in the quarter, went 6-6 from the line and finished the half with a game-high 15.
After a 7-0 Hornets run to begin the third quarter, it looked like Denver was ready to fold. Jokic only had two assists and was visibly frustrated with himself and his team’s play. Meanwhile, Walker and Batum were firing daggers from distance. But a 13-4 Nuggets run to close to within 11 at the 3:48 mark of the third, a margin which stood through the first half of fourth, set Denver and Charlotte up for an exciting finish.
Denver cut Charlotte’s margin to eight with a little over five minutes remaining on a Will Barton catch-and-shoot three, then six on a coast-to-coast Murray layup, and then four a minute later on a Barton drive. That was the closest Denver would get as the Hornets pulled away down the stretch.
“It was just one of those games today,” Gary Harris, who only attempted one field goal, said. “Can’t think too much about it. Got to bounce back.”
Jameer Nelson returned to Denver’s starting lineup after missing the Nuggets’ win in Milwaukee with food poisoning. Nelson scored
The Nuggets host Sacramento Monday, Washington Wednesday and Boston Friday before heading to Sacramento for a weekend tilt with the Kings.