Miles Bridges hit a 3-ball for the first bucket of the game. The Hornets got off to a pretty good start offensively, hitting four of their first five shots from the field (3-3 3PT) and scoring 11 points in the first three minutes. Denver got going soon after, and it was 16-13 Hornets with 6:16 to go in the opening quarter. Devonte’ Graham and PJ Washington showed a good connection on the pick-and-pop in the early going, and Cody Martin made some energetic plays. After Devonte’ nailed a free-throw line floater at the first-quarter buzzer, it was 34-31 Hornets. PJ led the team with eight points, while Terry Rozier and Miles each had six.
Devonte’ hit his 200th 3-pointer of the season early in the second quarter, becoming just the fourth player in franchise history to do so; we are happy for him. Cody Zeller injured a woman after he dove into the stands chasing a loose ball, causing a lengthy delay, but at least the woman seemed all right despite her bloody nose. Denver tied the game at 42 with 6:58 left in the half behind improved ball-movement and six offensive boards. The ball was flying around the perimeter, and the Hornets were often a step slow rotating late in the shot clock. PJ lead the team with 13 points just before the break, but he had to sit with 2:52 remaining after picking up his third foul. Denver took a 60-51 lead into halftime, shooting 55.6% from the field in the first two quarters. Devonte’ had nine points and four assists. Paul Millsap led Denver with 11 points.
Devonte’s shot is all the way back — a Zeller layup and back-to-back threes from Graham got the third quarter going for the Hornets. Jokic got frustrated and committed his fourth foul with 6:56 left in the third and the Hornets up 65-63. The pace of play picked up a bit in the middle of the quarter, as the Hornets decided to steal the Nuggets’ first-half strategy and move the ball around, which resulted in some good plays from Jalen McDaniels, Cody Martin and Willy Hernangomez. With 2:57 left in the third, it was 75-71 Hornets and the team was 10-23 from beyond the arc. Terry buried a tough 3-pointer with just over a minute left in the quarter, and the Hornets went into the final frame up 82-80. Devonte’ had a game-high 18 points, nine of which came in the third.
Terry, Caleb Martin, and Willy all hit a shot to start the fourth for the Hornets, putting them up 89-84 and forcing Nuggets coach Mike Malone into a timeout. Things got a bit chippy between Jokic and the Hornets’ big men (mostly Zeller) as the quarter went along, and Denver’s offense got going before they eventually tied the game at 96 after Will Barton bounced the ball off of Cody Martin’s rear end and laid it in uncontested at the basket with 5:09 remaining. James Borrego challenged a foul on Cody Martin that stood as called with the game tied and 4:33 left on the clock.
The end of this game was really competitive and fun. PJ rebounded his own miss and got Jokic to commit his fifth foul and hit both free throws to tie the game at 104 with 2:41 remaining, and then hammered home a dunk to make it a 110-109 Denver lead with 1:14 to go. Devonte’ was fouled with the Hornets in the bonus, knocking down a pair of free throws to give the Hornets a 111-110 lead with 57.4 seconds left before fouling Barton on the defensive end, giving Denver a 112-111 lead with 43.8 seconds remaining. Zeller was fouled on Charlotte’s ensuing possession, and he hit one of two shots from the line to tie it at 112 with 31.6 seconds to go. Denver swung the ball all over the floor and bled the shot clock down to the buzzer before Murray buried a tough leaner from the left baseline to put the Nuggets up two with 5.1 seconds left. Terry had a chance at a good look at the buzzer, but he slipped on his step-back and ended up missing with a hand in his face, and the Hornets fell 114-112 at home.
Devonte’ led all scorers with 24 points, adding seven dimes. PJ ended up with 20 points and six rebounds, while Terry went 5-9 from 3-point land and finished with 19 points. Willy put up 14 points and six rebounds on 7-11 FG in 23 minutes off the bench. Close losses always sting a bit worse than the others, but one can’t be too upset with the results of this game. Denver is a good team and the Hornets took them to the brink behind strong play from their young core. It’s not about wins at this juncture, it’s about growth and effort, and we saw plenty of that.