Jokic scores 41, Nuggets hand Trail Blazers third straight loss

DENVER — Nikola Jokic had 41 points and Jamal Murray celebrated his 24th birthday by scoring 19 of his 24 in the fourth quarter to lead the Denver Nuggets over the Portland Trail Blazers 111-106 on Tuesday night.

Damian Lillard had 20 of his 25 points in the second half and added 13 assists but it wasn’t enough for the Blazers, who were coming off a 32-point loss Monday night in Phoenix. They have dropped three straight after a six-game winning streak.

“It’s frustrating just because we want to win games,” Lillard said. “It’s as high as you can get when you’re having success. Sometimes you come out on the losing side. We were playing at a high level for a long stretch of games. It’s not easy to sustain that level.”

Lillard had only five points at halftime but the Blazers rallied from 12 down to tie it at the break behind Carmelo Anthony‘s big second quarter. Anthony hit six of eight shots and two of his three 3-point attempts, scoring 16 of his 19 first-half points in the period. He finished with 24.

“We rode Melo in the second quarter,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I thought he was outstanding in the second quarter. The game slowed down in the second half and their two best players played great. Murray had an outstanding fourth quarter when it counted.”

Jokic had 23 points in the first half and 12 more in the third quarter to help Denver forge a tie heading into the final 12 minutes.

Murray, held in check for the first three quarters, ended the night with a big fourth. He hit six of his next seven shots and three from deep, putting Denver ahead 93-90 with a step-back 3 with 5:59 left.

“I’m never going to force it. Joker had it going and I was cool with the five points,” Murray said. “It’s weird for me to say but I’m not looking for the stats, I’m always going to hit the open man. I’m not going to force it to get my points up. Just pick my spots, and sometimes I pick them later.”

Murray then made a layup off a bounce pass from Jokic and a turnaround jumper in the lane that gave the Nuggets a 99-92 lead. Murray also hit four free throws in the final 10 seconds to answer 3-pointers from Lillard and Anthony.

“It’s impressive. It’s a sight to behold and tonight it was so welcome,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “I knew when I took Nikola out to start the fourth we were going to need Jamal to step up.”

Denver finished with just one turnover, which was an NBA record according to the Nuggets. The one miscue came early in the second quarter when Murray lost the ball out of bounds.

“I had the turnover?” Murray said postgame. “I’m sick. I had the one turnover on the team. That’s crazy.”

Stotts was impressed by the stat.

“I’m sure I’ve seen a one-turnover game but I can’t remember,” he said. “They take good care of the ball. Their two best players handle the ball, they took good care of it.”