NEW ORLEANS — Deja vu next door to the French Quarter? Nearly, but not quite.
The Nuggets lost to the Pelicans 115-110 on Friday night in an in-season tournament group-stage barn burner. They trailed 84-64 with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter after a 4-for-21 start from beyond the arc, but then three consecutive 3-pointers from Christian Braun, Nikola Jokic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ignited a furious comeback to pull within one possession several times in the fourth. The Nuggets never led.
Eleven days earlier, they rallied from down 20 at home to defeat Zion Williamson and the Pelicans. This time, with the court colored purple and lime, Jokic turned the ball over with 3:20 remaining when Denver had a chance to take its first lead down 103-102. New Orleans responded with an 8-0 run catalyzed by Williamson, who finished with 26 points on 17 shots. It was 111-102 with 1:50 left, too much for one last Denver rally to overcome.
The Nuggets missed three consecutive 3-pointers on the same possession with a chance to tie it down 113-110 in the final minute. They finished the game 10-for-40.
And with the loss, they no longer control their own fate in Group West B. They are 2-1 in tournament play with one game remaining (next Friday at Houston), now holding the same record as New Orleans atop the group standings. If they finish in a two-way tie for first place, the Pelicans will hold the tiebreaker and win the group, leaving the Nuggets’ wild-card chances up to point differential.
Jokic carried the load for most of the night, amassing 26 points, 16 rebounds and 18 assists. Braun scored a career-high 25, including the consecutive baskets to narrow the deficit to 103-102 late. Through three quarters, Jokic had assisted or scored 25 of the team’s 35 made baskets, but Braun kept the comeback alive during Jokic’s rest minutes early in the fourth, earning his way into the crunch time lineup with Jamal Murray still injured.
As the rally intensified, Murray, in street clothes, was heavily involved in the huddles.
The Pelicans attacked Denver’s interior defense from the opening tip. After the first 30 points of the game (18-12 New Orleans) were scored in the paint, New Orleans opened up a 27-19 lead (22 in the paint) on 13-of-16 shooting that prompted a pair of Michael Malone timeouts in the first eight minutes.
The Nuggets responded after the second, putting together a 7-0 run with Braun leading the charge. Malone said earlier in the week he wants more of an aggressive mindset from Braun, who didn’t score at all in a loss at Houston. He did a better job cutting and getting open Tuesday in a win over the Clippers, and he hunted his shot more while leading the all-bench unit Friday. He finished the quarter with seven points, but after the Nuggets went to an all-bench unit, the offense collectively struggled with three straight turnovers. The deficit was back to 36-28 by the end of the first, and with Williamson staying on the floor during Denver’s non-Jokic minutes, New Orleans expanded it to 49-33 after Malone called his third timeout.
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