After thrilling wins, Pacers and Nuggets meet in Denver
If Saturday night's matchup between Denver and Indiana is anything like the games both played Thursday, Nuggets fans are in for a treat.
A couple of hours after Wesley Matthews' tip-in with 1.8 seconds left gave the Pacers a 108-106 win over Oklahoma City, Nikola Jokic saved Denver with an awkward one-handed leaner at the buzzer to beat Dallas, 100-99.
Now both teams take that momentum into Saturday's game in Denver. The Pacers (44-25) have more than treaded water without star Victor Oladipo, who is out for the season with a ruptured tendon in his right knee. They are 12-10 since he went down and sit third in the Eastern Conference with 13 games left.
Matthews has helped since signing with Indiana last month, after he was bought out by the New York Knicks. He's averaging 12.8 points in 13 games with the Pacers and upped his value with his winner against the Thunder.
"I'm glad he came here," Thaddeus Young said after the game. "That would've been a problem on our hands if he wound up against us. He's coming up huge for us day by day. He has great leadership, a powerful voice in this locker room."
Matthews wasn't the only hero against Oklahoma City. Domantas Sabonis had 26 points, much need production with Oladipo sidelined.
"He's a problem down there," center Myles Turner said of Sabonis after the game.
Denver (45-22) has been up and down of late and nearly lost its third home game in its last four against the Mavericks. Jokic, who is in the MVP conversation, hit a shot to avoid a loss that would have made the Nuggets' hold on the No. 2 seed in the West less secure.
As valuable as Jokic is, the team is short on playoff experience. Paul Millsap is the veteran exception. The forward has gone deep into the postseason with Atlanta and Utah and is starting to look like he smells the playoffs nearing.
Millsap had a season-high 33 points against Dallas after putting up 23 in a win over Minnesota on Tuesday night. He was the steadying offensive force through the first three quarters against the Mavericks.
"Paul has been really good of late," Denver coach Michael Malone said after Thursday's win.
Millsap's' 87 career playoff games will be important experience to draw upon for his young teammates. Games like Thursday night's -- on national TV and with seeding implications -- might help the roster understand the intensity that comes in April and May.
"I felt like it was one of those postseason games, especially against a team that plays hard, values the basketball," Millsap said afterward. "In the magnitude that we won it, being down, getting stops and holding them to 10 points in the fourth quarter, I think it is."
Denver couldn't afford to drop one to a struggling Mavericks team, and it can't let Indiana come in and steal one Saturday night. With a four-game, Eastern Conference road trip ahead -- which ends in a rematch against the Pacers on March 24 -- racking up wins at home is vital for the Nuggets.
"We just want to win as many games as possible," Jokic said Thursday night. "We just want to go out and win every game."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 16, 2019