Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a...

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot during the fourth quarter against Dorian Finney-Smith #28 of the Nets at Barclays Center on Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Nets showed more fight than they had recently, but the Nuggets ended the game with jabs at the free-throw line in their 122-117 victory on Friday night at Barclays Center.

The Nuggets (20-10) made seven of eight free throws in the final 18.4 seconds to improve to 6-1 in their last seven games and extend the Nets’ losing streak to five games.

After consecutive blowout losses, the Nets (13-15) stayed close in this game until the end.

The Nuggets’ Peyton Watson drove for a dunk to give the Nuggets a 115-110 lead and was fouled with 25.5 seconds left. He missed the free throw and then fouled Cam Thomas (23 points) on a made three-pointer.

The four-point play brought the Nets within one.

Jamal Murray (32 points, nine assists) then made the first of two free throws with 18.4 seconds left. He missed the second, but the Nets didn’t box out the shooter and the rebound went right back to him. The Nets had to foul and he added two free throws with 15.8 seconds remaining for a 118-114 lead.

Aaron Gordon added two free throws with 4.3 seconds left for a 120-115 lead, and after a layup by Dorian Finney-Smith, Nikola Jokic (31 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) made two more free throws with 2.3 seconds to play to close it out.

“I think we put ourselves in a position to try to win a ballgame,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I thought our attention for the majority of the night was in the right place. Now we just got to hone in on each possession.”

Mikal Bridges missed a potential tying free throw with 1:10 left after being fouled while making a layup. After Murray hit a floater to push the lead to 113-110 with 54.9 seconds remaining, Bridges missed a short jumper, leading to Watson’s driving dunk.

The loss spoiled the return of Dennis Smith Jr., who provided a lift after missing the previous seven games. Smith, out with an upper back sprain, had seven points, five assists and four rebounds and was a plus-9, the second-best plus-minus for a Nets player in the game.

“We miss his activity, just his presence,” Finney-Smith said. “We’re just feeding off his energy. I just try to do what I do, which is the same, bringing energy.”

Smith and Finney-Smith were part of a strong bench performance as the Nets’ reserves scored 47 points to the Nuggets’ 23. Finney-Smith had 14 points, shooting 4-for-5 on threes.

Nic Claxton (10 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, three blocks) and Day’Ron Sharpe (13 points, 10 rebounds) each had a double-double. But while the Nets had seven players score in double figures, it wasn’t enough to counter Murray, Jokic and Gordon (18 points).

The Nets got off to another slow start as they trailed 18-7 in the first quarter. But things changed when Finney-Smith checked in at the 6:17 mark.

Bridges made two quick baskets, including one initiated by his steal on Jokic. Finney-Smith ended a 12-4 run with a three-pointer that cut the deficit to 22-19. He later gave the Nets a 27-26 lead on another three-pointer.

Finney-Smith, Smith and Royce O’Neale remained on the court to start the second quarter with the score tied at 28. The Nets went on a 7-0 run and led 41-35 when Smith checked in with 8:07 remaining.

Cam Johnson had 17 points and Bridges finished with 14.

The Nets will host the Pistons, who have lost 25 consecutive games, on Saturday.

If that game adds any pressure for the Nets to get right, they shot that down in favor of just knowing they need to win regardless whom they’re facing.

“We’re trying to get off this losing streak as well,” Finney-Smith said. “So no pressure. We just want to win.”

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