SAN FRANCISCO — Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon passes the ball to center Nikola Jokic with 3.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors.
Jokic took three triples down the right side of the court and then launched a 39-foot 3-pointer over the head of Warriors center Kevon Looney.
From the perspective of the Nuggets bench, it looked dead.
“When it left his hands, all the coaches behind him said, 'That's on the line. That's going in,'” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
“I don't know if it was my instincts or what, but I knew we weren't going to go to OT. I knew Joker was going to hit that shot,” forward Peyton Watson said.
He did. Jokic's shot bounced off the glass and rattled in, giving the Nuggets a 130-127 victory over the Warriors. Even Jogi knew it going in.
“That was the last option on that play,” Jokic said. “I took a shot. I think those shots are easy shots to take. You don't have any other options. So really, when I felt it, I thought, 'Oh, I'm going to bank it.' I know I'm going to.”
That was the sealing shot on a 25-4 Nuggets run over the final 6:45 of the game, including a 13-0 run.
“The thing with Nikola, I like that he gets to his spot, he's set and he shoots his shot,” Gordon said. “He doesn't let the defense change at all. When he shoots his shot, he always has a chance to make it.”
Jokic finished with 34 points on 13-for-15 shooting, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Gordon added 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting, and guard Jamal Murray had 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
But going into the fourth, Denver trailed by 18 and the Warriors outscored the Nuggets 44-24 in the third quarter.
The Nuggets said Golden State will throw its best shots at them, especially after scoring 70 points in the first half, 42 of which came in the paint — the most points the Warriors have allowed in a first half this season.
The Warriors' third quarter was one of their best of the season. Their 75% shooting from the field was their best mark in any quarter so far, and their +20 point differential was their second-best in any quarter (+21 in the third against the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 24).
Gordon said the Nuggets never hung their heads. During each period, they pushed the mentality of one stop, one score, one stop, one score and stayed positive until they evened the pitch.
Malone said he was most proud of that mindset and his team's ability to withstand Golden State's push.
“They came out very aggressive in the third quarter and we just didn't match it. They kept us on our heels,” Malone said. “We said, 'Okay, enough, our backs are against the ball. We've got to go now.'
“The most aggressive team is going to win. … Coming into the game, I felt like we were the most aggressive team.”
It was the seventh time this season the Warriors have led by 10 or more points. It was the fourth time with at least an 18-point lead.
“The defense was fantastic in the fourth,” Jokic said. “We didn't want to give up. We could have easily made excuses for losing that game. … But the guys didn't drop their heads. We were very aggressive. They only scored four points. That was really good defense. , especially against that team.”
Arguably, the most important defensive play of the night came seconds before Jokic's game-winning shot.
With 6.2 seconds left, Murray intercepted a cross-court pass from Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
“Jamal read the situation really well,” Jokic said.
Malone immediately tried to call a timeout, but it wasn't granted until Murray took a triple. So the Nuggets were forced to punt the ball down three quarters of the court.
Malone had three plays in mind. Murray is going to be on the strong side at first. The second Kentavious Caldwell-Pope flew from Jokic at halfcourt. The third hit Gordon Jokic, and the two-time MVP and reigning Finals MVP was hoping something could happen.
The last one happened. But there was no panic, especially from Jokic as he hunted down his shot with less than four seconds left.
“I want to tell you [that’s how I drew it up]. But he's a great player, playing great,” Malone said. “Nicola lives for those moments. And for a player of his caliber to go out there and see the plays he's making, it's great and gratifying.”