Nikola Jokic's Game-Saving Block Gives Nuggets Win vs. Steph Curry, Warriors

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIDecember 29, 2021

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots against Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The Golden State Warriors nearly overcame a 24-point halftime deficit, but the visiting Denver Nuggets held on to earn an 89-86 upset victory on Tuesday in San Francisco's Chase Center.

Denver led 31-16 after one quarter and 60-36 at halftime before its offense completely shut down in the final two quarters.

The Warriors steadily chipped away and tied the game at 84 following a Gary Payton II dunk with 1:04 left.

Will Barton then put Denver up for good with a putback layup.

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Extra effort from Will for the lead!! 💪 <a href="https://t.co/kkMS6usL8N">pic.twitter.com/kkMS6usL8N</a>

A Stephen Curry three-pointer in response did not connect, and Barton responded with two free throws for an 88-84 Denver edge.

The Warriors didn't go away quietly. An Andrew Wiggins dunk led to an Otto Porter Jr. strip of Nikola Jokic, giving the Warriors a chance to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds.

However, Jokic blocked a Jonathan Kuminga game-tying layup attempt.

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

J🚫KER TO THE RESCUE <a href="https://t.co/ID4g5JrC5C">pic.twitter.com/ID4g5JrC5C</a>

The Warriors then fouled Facundo Campazzo, who hit 1-of-2 free throws. Golden State called timeout to move the ball up court, but an Andre Iguodala three-point attempt for the tie fell short.

The Nuggets were shorthanded going into this game:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Monte Morris (left knee soreness), Aaron Gordon (left hamstring soreness), and Vlatko Čančar (Non-COVID illness) are OUT for tonight's game.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MileHighBasketball?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MileHighBasketball</a>

The Warriors were missing Draymond Green, Damion Lee, Moses Moody and Jordan Poole because of the league's health and safety protocols.

Golden State did welcome back Andrew Wiggins, who was cleared Monday to return from protocols.

Jokic led Denver with 22 points and 18 boards. Curry led all scorers with 23 points and became the first player to make 3,000 career three-pointers:

Golden State Warriors @warriors

The greatest 3-point shooter of all time.<br>The first to ever make 3,000 treys.<br><br>Salute, <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenCurry30?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@StephenCurry30</a> ☔ <a href="https://t.co/wNoTUbBo1e">pic.twitter.com/wNoTUbBo1e</a>

The 27-7 Warriors' three-game win streak snapped in defeat. The 17-16 Nuggets have won two straight.

Notable Performances

Denver C Nikola Jokic: 22 points, 18 rebounds, 4 steals

Denver F Will Barton: 21 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds

Golden State G Stephen Curry: 23 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds

Golden State F Andrew Wiggins: 21 points, 8 rebounds

Jokic Continues to Crush the NBA

There is no better player in the NBA right now than Jokic, who proved once again Tuesday that he's the league's most efficient and versatile player.

The significantly shorthanded Nuggets have a winning record despite missing 20-point-a-game scorer Jamal Murray all season, and that's because Jokic is on an historical tear.

His 32.7 player efficiency rating entering Tuesday is No. 1 all time, ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019-20 (31.86) and Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63 (31.82). We'll find out if Jokic is able to sustain that over an entire season, but we're nearly at the halfway point of this one, and he only seems to be improving.

He's also been tearing it up late in particular, with the reigning NBA MVP averaging 25.7 points and 20.3 rebounds in his last three games.

StatMuse @statmuse

Nikola Jokic last 3 games:<br><br>29 PTS, 21 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL<br>26 PTS, 22 REB, 8 AST, 2 STL<br>22 PTS, 18 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL <a href="https://t.co/ZX1BNAjOvJ">pic.twitter.com/ZX1BNAjOvJ</a>

Jokic made clutch plays all night Tuesday.

His sensational passing was on full display, as he found a cutting Campazzo to the rim for two:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

The Joker finds The Magician 😍 <a href="https://t.co/ogQJbR3T5c">pic.twitter.com/ogQJbR3T5c</a>

With the Warriors completely wresting momentum out of the Nuggets' hands, Jokic grabbed an offensive rebound and put home a bucket for an 82-74 lead after Golden State had scored 13 of the previous 17 points:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Big fella is WORKING on the glass <a href="https://t.co/C62YgTkeIh">pic.twitter.com/C62YgTkeIh</a>

And then there was Jokic's game-saving block, made more remarkable by the fact that he committed a turnover just seconds before and had to compose himself, rush back on defense and cut off the baseline just in time to prevent the game-tying shot.

In the end, Jokic did enough to lead Denver to victory over the NBA's top team, garnering hope that the Nuggets can push away from the middle of the league standings.


Curry, Warriors Fight Hard Until End

Neither team was anywhere remotely close to full strength.

Both superstars (Curry and Jokic) were missing some trusty sidekicks (Gordon and Green) and are still waiting on returns for some stellar guards rehabbing knee and leg injuries (Jamal Murray and Klay Thompson).

That's in addition to everyone else currently in health and safety protocols or working their way back from other ailments.

Therefore, it wasn't a big surprise that two normally gifted and talented offensive teams found themselves unable to even hit 90 points on Tuesday. Somehow, Denver won this game despite only scoring 14 points in the third and 15 in the fourth.

It was an off-night for the Warriors all around though. They committed 17 turnovers and shot just 10-of-31 from three-point range.

Curry went 6-of-16 (5-of-14 on three-pointers), and the bench only combined for 15 points. If not for Wiggins' 21 point night, this one may have been over early.

Still, the team didn't fold after going down 24 at the half, using their sensational defensive effort to give themselves opportunities.

The ball movement also improved in the second half, like on this play capped by a Kevon Looney dunk:

Golden State Warriors @warriors

tic<br>tac<br>toe<br><br>📺 <a href="https://twitter.com/NBCSAuthentic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBCSAuthentic</a> <a href="https://t.co/2Md8PgTmxO">pic.twitter.com/2Md8PgTmxO</a>

Wiggins also fired a laser to Payton for two:


Wiggins throws a full-court laser to GP II to cut the Denver lead in half 👀 <a href="https://twitter.com/warriors?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@warriors</a> and Nuggets Q3 action on NBA TV! <a href="https://t.co/TsnPIdcS5d">pic.twitter.com/TsnPIdcS5d</a>

Curry also got it going from deep in the fourth as Denver struggled to score, hitting a trio of clutch threes en route to scoring 12 straight for Golden State:

Golden State Warriors @warriors

There he goes.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StephenCurry?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StephenCurry</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAllStar?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAllStar</a> <a href="https://t.co/aXJ33rdEcq">pic.twitter.com/aXJ33rdEcq</a>

Golden State Warriors @warriors

When it rains, it pours ☔️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StephenCurry?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StephenCurry</a> || <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAllStar?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAllStar</a> <a href="https://t.co/KaW1Rvg78v">pic.twitter.com/KaW1Rvg78v</a>

Golden State Warriors @warriors

When it rains, it pours ☔️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StephenCurry?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StephenCurry</a> || <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAllStar?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAllStar</a> <a href="https://t.co/KaW1Rvg78v">pic.twitter.com/KaW1Rvg78v</a>

Ultimately, it wasn't meant to be as Barton's big putback layup and Jokic's tough defense sealed the win, but the Warriors continued to show how tough they are to put away even when they are missing key personnel.


What's Next?

Denver will host Golden State on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET at Ball Arena to complete their home-and-home series.