SAN ANTONIO (AP)Keldon Johnson scored 23 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame 37 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists by Nikola Jokic to stun the Denver Nuggets 128-120 on Friday night before an announced sellout.
“It felt great,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “The fans were really into it. We put them to sleep in the first quarter and then we woke them up a little bit.
“So it was great to have all those people yelling and screaming. They deserve to have a good night.”
Doug McDermott added 20 points and Jeremy Sochan had 19 points for San Antonio, which shot 54% in a balanced effort with their entire roster available for one of only a few times in an injury-riddled season.
It was enough to overcome Jokic’s 26th triple-double in what could be his third straight MVP season. It was the first time the Nuggets have lost this season when Jokic has a triple-double.
Jamal Murray added 24 points for Denver, which lost its second straight following a four-game winning streak. The Nuggets maintained the Western Conference’s best record at 46-21, but fell 2 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the league’s best record.
“I think we have faith in what we can do,” Murray said.
Denver hoped to rebound from an uncharacteristically sloppy outing in a 117-96 loss at home to Chicago on Wednesday, but instead had one of the season’s most unexpected losses.
San Antonio entered having lost two straight and 18 of 20.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone told the team’s staff and players that they needed to “look in the mirror” following the home loss to the Bulls.
“So, you hope the message is delivered,” Malone said before the game.
The message was lost, even as the Nuggets responded to a second-half altercation.
Spurs center Zach Collins and Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. were ejected with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter after having to be separated by teammates, officials, and the coaching staffs.
After Collins and Jokic had a series of hard bumps and shoves, Porter threw down a monstrous one-handed dunk on Collins. Porter glared and said something to Collins, who responded by charging at and bumping him from behind. The two were nose-to-nose before Porter pushed Collins in the throat.
Denver responded with a 5-0 run to trail 85-84, but San Antonio never lost its lead in the second half.
“I don’t want to say the stakes were high, but I feel like everybody wanted to win and everybody was on the same page,” Spurs center Sandro Mamukelashvili said. “Once you’re at that point and you’re up, you just don’t want to lose that game you just kind of do everything to win.”
After not playing in the first three quarters, Mamukelashvili had 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting. He was 2 for 3 on 3-pointers.
Both teams finished with 13 3-pointers, but San Antonio outscored Denver 68-54 in the paint and had 50 rebounds while the Nuggets had 33.
“They lived in our paint, outrebounded us and on top of that we missed some really good looks,” Murray said. “It was tough to try to climb back even when we brought a good attitude and good effort. We just couldn’t climb ourselves out of the hole that we created for ourselves.”
Nuggets: Denver has 15 games remaining, including 12 against teams that currently qualify for the playoffs. … C DeAndre Jordan has played in just 35 games this season, which is on pace to be the fewest in his 15-year career. His lowest total is 48 games, which he had last season while playing with the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers. … Porter had seven points, one rebound and one assist in 20 minutes when he was ejected.
Spurs: San Antonio is 3-46 this season when trailing by double figures during a game. The Spurs have trailed by double figures in 74% of their games this season. San Antonio is 1-35 when trailing by 15 points. … Romeo Langford was eligible for his second straight game after missing 17 consecutive games with left abductor tightness. … Collins had 10 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes when he was ejected.
Nuggets: Host Brooklyn on Sunday.
Spurs: Host Oklahoma City on Sunday. –
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