DENVER – The Nets were in position to win three of the first four games of their season-long West Coast road trip, but after blowing a 15-point halftime lead Tuesday at Utah, they blew a 16-point third-quarter lead Thursday night at Pepsi Center on their way to a disappointing 101-93 loss to the Nuggets.
The Nuggets climbed out of a 16-point third-quarter hole and finally regained the lead when Jerami Grant hit a right-wing three-pointer with 9:29 left in the game for an 86-83 lead. That turned into a 15-4 Nuggets surge for a 96-87 lead on a Will Barton layup. Barton had six points in that span.
The Nets ran off six straight points to cut their deficit to 96-93 on a bank shot by Kyrie Irving with 3:31 left, but that was the last time they scored as the Nuggets held them to a mere 32 second-half points and 11-for-47 shooting. The Nets missed their final nine shots of the game.
The loss was the third straight for the Nets (4-7) on a five-game road trip that ends Saturday in Chicago. They got 17 points and nine assists from Irving, 17 and nine rebounds from Jarrett Allen and 17 points from Spencer Dinwiddie. The Nuggets (8-3) were led by Nikola Jokic with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Paul Millsap with 18 points and Barton with 16.
Understanding they will be without Caris LeVert for several weeks while he recovers after undergoing successful surgery on Thursday in New York to repair ligaments in his right thumb, the Nets signed free agent guard Iman Shumpert on Wednesday, and he was with them in Denver but was not expected to play on such short notice.
Coach Kenny Atkinson again went with Garrett Temple as LeVert’s replacement as starting two-guard. Explaining how the Nets hope to make up for LeVert’s production, Atkinson said, "We’re just going to have to figure it out . . . . I don’t think it’s one person taking that load. I think it’s going to be by committee.”
Atkinson also said he expects to use Irving and Dinwiddie together in the backcourt more often. “Definitely open to it,” Atkinson said. “Those guys can definitely play together. It even helps us defensively sometimes to put Spencer on the lead ballhandler and use his great pick-and-roll defense. I like it. I think you’ll see it a lot going forward.”
After exchanging baskets in the early going, the Nets tightened up their defense midway through the first quarter and closed on a 14-6 run to take a 35-28 lead. They were even better in the second quarter, holding the Nuggets to just 21 points while building a 61-49 halftime lead. They held the Nuggets to 38.5 percent shooting while making 53.2 percent from the field themselves and committing just three first-half turnovers.
In the third quarter, the Nets pushed their lead to 16 points only to see the Nuggets respond with a 26-10 run, including seven points by Barton and six by Millsap to tie the score at 77. It was a similar scenario to Tuesday at Utah, where the Nets allowed a 15-point halftime lead to shrink to eight going to the fourth quarter and then vanish completely down the stretch. This time, they were tied at 79 heading to the final period after scoring only 18 in the third quarter.