Luka Doncic, Mavericks rain 17 3-pointers to hand Nuggets third-straight loss

Dorian Finney-Smith fired a steely glare directly at Denver’s bench. His 3-point dagger with 17 seconds left in Tuesday’s gripping contest was as cold as ice.

The Mavericks blitzed into Ball Arena and seized a 116-115 win over the Nuggets, handing Denver its third consecutive loss.

Jamal Murray’s last-second heave wasn’t close, and Denver’s feverish fourth-quarter comeback attempt fell short. Down 10 late in the fourth, the Nuggets stormed back to take the lead on a clutch Bruce Brown 3-pointer from the corner, but the lead was short-lived. Finney-Smith’s 3-pointer was one of 17 the Mavericks hit on the night, and the Nuggets did themselves no favors with 17 turnovers that led to 23 Dallas points.

Murray struggled from the field, going just 2 for 11.

“Jamal’s still a work in progress,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, acknowledging that the turnovers, ultimately, were Denver’s undoing.

Aaron Gordon led the Nuggets with 27, and Nikola Jokic added 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. After getting benched last game, Bones Hyland was tremendous with 20 points and five assists. Despite his production, Hyland said the defensive mistakes have yielded losses that they should’ve won.

“The locker room’s definitely frustrated,” Hyland said.

Luka Doncic had 22 points and four 3-pointers as part of Dallas’ barrage. Now 14-10, the Nuggets will re-group and head to Portland on Thursday.

While Michael Porter Jr. sat for the seventh consecutive game due to a heel injury, Jeff Green returned from a knee injury to help stabilize the second unit.

The Nuggets flipped the script to start the third quarter. Instead of throwing careless passes to grease fastbreaks as they’d done in the first half, they were the ones jumping the passing lanes. It led to easy runouts and efficient, effective offense. An 11-3 run to start the third gave way to a torrential Dallas spurt from the 3-point line. If it wasn’t Finney-Smith connecting from deep, then it was Tim Hardaway Jr. scorching the nets from distance.

Shortly after another turnover, Jokic engineered one of his sweetest assists of the season. When Dallas threw a double-team in his direction, Jokic channeled his inner-Larry Bird and whipped it behind his back to Jeff Green for a layup. That playmaking, coupled with Christian Braun’s defense off the bench, kept Denver down just 91-86 entering the fourth.

Playing his first extended minutes in almost two weeks, Braun made an impact on both ends of the floor. Zeke Nnaji also enjoyed substantive minutes after Denver’s awful bench showing over the weekend.

Following Sunday’s dispiriting loss to the Pelicans, which included benching Hyland for the second half, Malone knew he needed to re-connect with his precocious point guard.

“He’s such an important part of that second unit,” Malone said. “… I spoke with him this morning for a while. Just need him to go out there and play his game, but just play with great effort, energy, discipline on both ends of the floor.”

After two difficult losses, Malone challenged himself to ensure there was that level of communication with all his players.

“That’s the job nowadays,” he said. “It’s not just diagramming a play.”

Malone’s self-awareness helped. Hyland was outstanding in the first half against Dallas, both in hunting for his shot and serving up easy looks with his playmaking. On three separate occasions he set up Jokic in the pick-and-roll for easy looks. As a whole, Denver’s bench was significantly improved, though their offensive execution was undermined by a bevy of turnovers. As a result, Dallas held a 64-58 lead at the break.

The Nuggets turned it over 11 times in the first half, directly leading to 17 Dallas points. Of the ten Nuggets who played early, all committed at least one turnover except Braun. Some of the mistakes were egregious, with passes through traffic that had little chance of finding their intended targets.

Despite the miscues, Gordon was a menace down low and paced Denver’s scoring with 17 first-half points. Jokic added 13 to combat Doncic’s 15 points and four 3-pointers.

 

 

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