DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic took on the role of closer.
Jokic scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and had 13 rebounds and eight assists to help the Denver Nuggets beat the Memphis Grizzlies 104-92 on Friday night.
Gary Harris and Jamal Murray added 15 points apiece, and Kenneth Faried had 14. The Nuggets won their fifth straight at home, and they needed a big fourth-quarter effort to hold off the Grizzlies, who had whittled a 16-point halftime deficit to two at the beginning of the final period.
Jokic, who also had seven of his rebounds in the fourth, led the way on both ends of the floor for the Nuggets in the late going.
“It speaks to his ability and the fact that he can be our closer,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Obviously, we’re going to be in this situation many more times and hopefully it continues to go the way it did tonight.”
JaMychal Green had 21 points for the Grizzlies in their seventh loss in a row. It’s the longest losing streak for the Grizzlies since a seven-game skid from Nov. 1-11, 2009. It also was Memphis’ first loss in its last five games in Denver.
Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans scored 15 points apiece for the Grizzlies.
“It’s a frustrating stretch but we’ve got to keep going,” Gasol said. “It doesn’t matter how difficult it, is you’ve got to do it. 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.”
Trailing by 16 at the half, the Grizzlies put together an 11-0 run capped by Dillon Brooks’ driving reverse layup to pull to 74-69 and outscored Denver 5-2 over the last 90 seconds of the third quarter to get within two points.
Jokic scored three consecutive baskets to start the fourth to help the Nuggets regain some separation. His jumper off a feed from Harris put Denver up 88-79 with 6:31 remaining.
“I got two post-ups and I scored and I kind of got going,” Jokic said. “Then I made a 3, had an offensive rebound, so it kind of opened the game for me.”
Jokic and Juan Hernangomez each connected from 3-point range over the next 1 1-2 minutes and just like that Denver was leading 95-81.
Memphis fought back to 97-89 on a 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers but the Nuggets closed the door in the last 1:38, getting a three-point play from Jokic and a put-back dunk by Faried to fend off the Grizzlies.
“Teams are going to make their run; we had our run in the first half. They had a run in the second (half),” Murray said. “It’s all about how you handle it, how you bounce back. We didn’t give in to it. We fought back, Jokic took over and we tried to control the pace a little bit better and we played very good defense late in the fourth.”
Denver opened a 61-45 lead at halftime, getting nine-point quarters in the first from Murray and the second from Jokic to help etablish a double-digit advantage.
Grizzlies: A left Achilles’ tendon injury has forced Mike Conley to miss a fifth consecutive game. No o fficial word yet on when he’s expected to return. … Friday’s contest marked David Fizdale’s 100th career game as the Grizzlies’ head coach. He is 140-50 since being hired ahead of the 2016-17 season.
Nuggets: Team doctors have discovered ligament damage in F Paul Milsap’s left wrist and he will be sidelined indefinitely. The team has not indicated whether he will need surgery. Initially, Milsap’s injury was announced as a sprain. He was injured in a loss last Sunday at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Gasol, who had a career-high 14 assists, in many respects paved the way for up-and-coming do-it-all centers epitomized by Jokic, who is known as much for his passing as he is for his shooting and rebounding. “He’s so talented,” Malone said about Gasol. “Watching him and Nikola, it’s just like they’re a mirror image of each other, how skilled they are, how unselfish they are.”
Grzzlies: Return home to host Brooklyn on Sunday night.
Nuggets: Get a three-day stretch between games before playing at Utah on Tuesday night.
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