Michael Porter Jr. ejected, Nikola Jokic’s triple-double streak broken in loss to Spurs

After Michael Porter Jr. put Zach Collins on a poster, the Nuggets competed like the Spurs had already been knocked out.

Instead, San Antonio stunned the visiting Nuggets on Friday night, dropping them 128-120, for the Spurs’ 17th victory of the season. For the first time all season, a Nikola Jokic triple-double didn’t equate to a win.

Jokic finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his 26th triple-double of the season, but San Antonio’s bench obliterated Denver’s second unit, and the Spurs owned the Nuggets on the glass, 50-33.

As usually happens, the more physical team won. Even though Porter’s emphatic finish over Collins (and the subsequent skirmish that led to both getting ejected) showed some fight, the Nuggets were underwhelming in their urgency. Now 46-21, they’ll head to Denver carrying a two-game losing streak and a date with Brooklyn on Sunday.

Here’s what mattered vs. the Spurs.

The record is his: Following Jamal Murray’s frustrating night against the Bulls on Wednesday, where he shot just 1 of 7 from 3 and appeared to press as he approached the franchise’s all-time 3-point record, Denver’s sniper wasted no time against San Antonio. Barely two minutes into the game, Aaron Gordon found Murray on the wing, where he drained his 805th career 3-pointer, surpassing Will Barton for the franchise’s all-time mark.

Those aren’t empty stats, either. Both Murray and Michael Malone are well aware of the correlation when Murray hoists from beyond the arc. The Nuggets are 10-0 this season when Murray gets up at least 10 3-pointers. Not only is he a streaky, volume shooter, but he’s the counterweight to Jokic’s dominance. The Nuggets entered Friday night second among all NBA teams in 3-point shooting percentage at 38.9. Murray, whose 6.5 attempts per game were second only to Porter’s 7.2, was shooting the exact same percentage as his team.

With the record behind him, Murray reeled off an efficient 17 points in the first half. He finished with 24 points, though was just 2 for 8 from deep.

The layers of Joker: Perhaps no player in the NBA has better touch around the rim, or can abuse a post defender better than Jokic. Which is why it was interesting to see him hoist nine 3s (3 for 9) vs. Chicago and drain 4 of 6 against the Spurs. At 39.8%, Jokic is shooting a career-high from 3-point range.

He’s an unstoppable, three-level scorer who can beat opponents from any angle. But his decision to drag defenders, in Friday’s case it was Collins, out to the 3-point line is an interesting one. Yes, it opens up the paint for others to go to work inside, but it also creates passing seams. Against Collins, whose physicality against Jokic preceded Porter’s retaliation, it’s possible Jokic was more inclined to pick apart San Antonio from the arc than battle through incessant contact. It’s also possible fatigue is playing a factor into his shot selection.

It didn’t help that the Spurs lived in Denver’s paint, finishing with 68 points inside.

The bench: In what’s become a broken record, Denver’s bench lacked any cohesion as they got pounded 58-25. Reggie Jackson struggled mightily from the field, and Bruce Brown continued to search for his 3-point stroke. In the first half, Christian Braun got some playing time and buried a 3-pointer from the corner. But he didn’t see any action in the second half despite playing fairly well in the first. With just 15 games left in the regular season, Denver’s bench feels far from settled.

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