Nuggets center Nikola Jokic sat on the sidelines, dressed in a peach-colored suit with a flamboyant shirt. He made for quite a colorful bench ornament.
And the NBA’s reigning, two-time MVP, out with an injured left hamstring, was able to relax and enjoy his Friday night off as his teammates dunked Indiana, 134-111, at Ball Arena.
And Jokic, the league’s master at triple-doubles, got to observe his buddy, Jamal Murray, notch the first triple-double of his career. The guard finished with 17 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
“It feels really, really good knowing that I didn’t do that before (his knee injury),” said Murray, who received a game ball, signed by his teammates.
Murray also joked about his big night coming with Jokic on the bench in street clothes: ” ‘Joker just steals all of my (triple-doubles) every game. It was nice to finally get one on the board.”
Assistant coach David Adelman, who’s filling in for head coach Michael Malone who’s in the league’s health and safety protocols, was thrilled for Murray, who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery to repair his torn ACL.
“He’s already had such a storied career here as a Nuggets and everything he’s been through, so it’s very cool to see that,” Adelman said. “If Jamal is not in the conversation (for making the All-Star Game), then you don’t value winning.”
Murray brought the crowd to its feet late in the third quarter with two spectacular assists in succession, first feeding Christian Braun for an alley-oop dunk, and then doing the same for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Then Bruce Brown turned his own steal into Denver’s third breakaway dunk in a row as its lead blew up to 92-76.
“That was a really fun sequence,” Murray said. “I was yelling and screaming up and down the court. The fans got into it and we knew we had (the Pacers) where we wanted them.”
The running, gunning Nuggets turned the game into a monster jam rally and ended up shooting a sizzling 61.4% (51 of 83). They shot 50% (14 of 28) from 3-point land. Even without Jokic in the lineup, the Nuggets dished out a season-high 38 assists.
“Thirty-eight assists in an NBA game is absurd,” Adelman said.
And Denver’s 16 dunks tied for its most in a game since the Nuggets finished with 16 dunks, their most since March 20, 2009 vs. Washington, and the most since the 1996-97 season. The Nuggets also had a season-high 16 steals.
Denver won its ninth consecutive game and has won 12 of its last 13. The Nuggets improved to 22-3 at home, where they have won 16 in a row.
Big picture: the leaders of the Western Conference are 33-13, the best record in franchise history through 46 games.
Indiana, without star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, dropped its sixth straight game, a season-worst.
With Jokic out, Denver got balanced scoring with Aaron Gordon muscling his way to 28 points, followed by Caldwell-Pope with 20 and Michael Porter Jr. with 19.
The Nuggets sprinted out to a 37-28 first-quarter lead, mostly because of their own torrid shooting (15 of 21, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers), and in part to the Pacers’ poor marksmanship (8 for 22, 1 of 10 on 3s).
For much of the first half, the running Nuggets, who had nine steals, held a monster jam rally. Brown’s tomahawk-slam off a nice assist from Bones Hyland, was the best dunk of all, putting Denver ahead 50-36 with 7:56 left in the second quarter.
“That was crazy,” Murray said. “I don’t even know what I just saw. I can’t wait to watch a replay of that dunk.”
When Brown threw down his dunk, the game had the makings of a blowout, but the Nuggets got sloppy before halftime and the Pacers started turning Nuggets turnovers into points. Denver led just 61-53 at intermission.
But they turned it on in the second half and won in convincing fashion.
The Nuggets will attempt to keep their hot streak going when they host Oklahoma City on Sunday night.