LaMelo Ball continued his strong return from injury with 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists, but he was outdone by Nikola Jokic’s 40 points, 27 rebounds, and 10 assists as the Charlotte Hornets lost to the Denver Nuggets, 119-115.
The Hornets got out to an early lead thanks in part to another logo 3-pointer from LaMelo Ball. Both teams struggled offensively otherwise. At the final TV timeout the quarter with about three minutes left, both teams had made fewer than a third of their shots. The offenses found a groove after that break. Jalen McDaniels hit a pair of 3-pointers to give the Hornets a lead that they would hold into the second quarter. Gordon Hayward’s fading floater set the score at 25-20.
Bones Hyland continued a first quarter trend of chucking up bad shots without the Nuggets stars on the floor. The Hornets took advantage of the misses to run out to a 30-20 lead within the first two possessions of the quarter. The Nuggets became very frustrated with their play and the officiating. They were hit with a pair of technical free throws after a missed goaltending call on a Nikola Jokic layup attempt. McDaniels responded with a tech of his own after he reacted to a call contesting a Jokic layup. A short takeover by LaMelo Ball included this incredible lob to Kai Jones.
But the Nuggets responded with their own run. They outscored the Hornets 17-4 over the final 4:36 of the half. The Hornets made just one of their final eight field goal attempts and turned the ball over a couple of times in that stretch. The Nuggets made a point to run on every miss, and the Hornets struggled to get back in transition defense. Meanwhile Nikola Jokic gobbled up just about every rebound and tallied 20 for the half. At the break, the Hornets trailed 55-52.
The third quarter started with the same frenetic pace that the second ended with. The Nuggets continued to beat the Hornets up the floor in transition and built on their halftime lead with a 15-7 run in the first three minutes and 20 seconds of the quarter. The lead grew as large as 16 before LaMelo Ball splashed a pair of corner triples to trim the deficit, but the Nuggets quickly responded and restored that lead before quarter’s end. The Hornets trailed 94-80 after three.
Nikola Jokic took a rare break to start the fourth quarter, and the Hornets capitalized with an 10-3 run to start the frame before he returned. The teams traded baskets and missed a lot of shots for the next several minutes. Jalen McDaniels had a back court steal and dunk, but Jokic had answers on the other end. Kelly Oubre hit a three and LaMelo Ball hit a wild floater to pull the Hornets within one possession. PJ Washington had a chance to tie the game from the corner with under three minutes to play, but his attempt came up short, and the Nuggets reeled off four straight points on the ensuing two possessions. Bruce Brown hit a corner three that essentially served a dagger, with some window dressing from both sides to set the final score. The Nuggets missed enough free throws to make it interesting, but the Hornets needed to play perfect basketball to take advantage, and they eventually slipped up on their last possession down four.
LaMelo Ball continues to carry the Hornets offensively with his play. He showed more aggression attacking the basket and chasing rebounds, which he has seemingly been hesitant to do coming off spraining his ankle twice. Jalen McDaniels and Gordon Hayward chipped in strong contributions as well.
The themes for the game were Nikola Jokic’s historic performance and the Hornets inability to contain the Nuggets on the break. They finally played with some defensive intensity in the fourth quarter, but they didn’t give themselves enough time to dig out of their hole.
The Hornets will also be monitoring the health of Terry Rozier, who left the game in the second quarter after banging his hip on the scorer’s table diving for a loose ball.
The Hornets will hop on the plane and travel to Sacramento to take on the Kings tomorrow.