Ejected in the first half, Nuggets coach Michael Malone didn’t get to an in-person look at Isaiah Thomas’ first 3-pointer in a Denver uniform. He also didn’t watch from his usual vantage point as Nikola Jokic tipped in the winner.
The raucous reverberations from inside the arena told him everything.
Jokic knocked in a basket with less than a second remaining, Thomas hit two big 3-pointers in his long-awaited Denver debut and the Nuggets held off the Sacramento Kings 120-118 on Wednesday night.
“This was one of the few home games that’s gone down to the wire, which is good for us,” said Malone, who watched from the locker room after receiving two technicals just before halftime. “We need to continue to be challenged and be forced to execute and get stops.”
Jokic finished with 20 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists for his 28th career triple-double, and Paul Millsap matched a season high with 25 points to help Denver overcome a 17-point first-half deficit.
Down six late, the Kings tied it on Buddy Hield’s layup with 15.1 seconds. In a timeout, it became next-coach-up time in the Denver huddle. Wes Unseld. Jr., filling in for Malone, helped design a play to get Jokic open.
Jokic went to work down low, missing his first shot attempt before tipping it in. Hield’s last-gasp 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer.
“Coach Wes, everybody, all stepped up,” said Jamal Murray, whose team is a league-best 25-4 at home this season.
Hield wouldn’t mind another crack at that shot.
“I was trying to find the rim but I didn’t get my eye on the rim,” said Hield, who led six Sacramento players in double figures with 25 points. “On to the next. Enjoy the weekend we have coming up.”
The Nuggets head into the All-Star break with a 39-18 record and on the heels of Golden State for the top spot in the Western Conference. Denver’s trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2012-13.
Thomas proclaimed his surgically repaired hip good to go prior to the game and was anxious to step back onto the court. He received a standing ovation when he entered the game late in the first quarter.
The 30-year-old Thomas showed flashes of his talent in shaking off some rust. He played 13 minutes and scored eight points — all in the third quarter — in his first NBA game since March 22 when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets signed the two-time All-Star to a one-year deal in the offseason and gave him plenty of space to recover from his hip operation.
Thomas scored his first basket of the season on a 3-pointer with 2:16 left in the third quarter. Moments later, he drained another 3-pointer that gave Denver its first lead since early in the game.
“When my name is called, I’m going to always be ready,” Thomas said. “When I’m in the game, I’m going to make it hard for the coach to take me out.”
Kings: After the All-Star break, resume a road swing by playing at Golden State on Feb. 21.
Nuggets: At Dallas on Feb. 22.
AROUND THE NBA
–The Bucks have their longest road winning streak in 34 years following a triple-double from their All-Star forward. Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered 33 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists as the Bucks picked up their seventh consecutive road victory, 106-97 over the Pacers. Indiana led by 10 until the three-time All-Star scored 12 points during a 30-11, game-ending run. Malcolm Brogdon chipped in 17 points and Khris Middleton added 15 in Milwaukee’s eighth win in nine games overall, and the 14th in their last 16 games. The Pacers ended a six-game winning streak and fell 5 ½ games behind the Central Division-leading Bucks. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 20 points and Darren Collison added 14 to lead Indiana.
— The Raptors rolled to their sixth straight win as Pascal Siakam scored a career-high 44 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead a 129-120 victory over the Wizards. OG Anunoby scored a career-best 22 points to help Toronto stay 1 ½ games behind Milwaukee for the league’s top record. Serge Ibaka had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Kyle Lowry had 14 points and 13 assists as the Raptors came back from 12 down to beat Washington for the fifth straight time.
— Al Horford finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the Celtics’ second win in as many nights, 118-110 against the Pistons. Gordon Hayward contributed 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds in his first start since Dec. 21. Boston won for the seventh time in nine games and ended Detroit’s four-game winning streak.
— Philadelphia bounced back from Tuesday’s loss to Boston as Joel Embiid furnished 26 points and 14 rebounds in a 126-111 verdict over the Knicks. Tobias Harris scored 25 points and Ben Simmons had 18 for the 76ers, who scored eight straight points in the third quarter to open an 88-62 advantage. Allonzo Trier scored 19 points and fellow rookie Mitchell Robinson had 14 with 13 rebounds, but New York still extended its team-record losing streak to 18 games.
— Damian Lillard scored 29 points and the Trail Blazers snapped the Warriors’ five-game winning streak by whipping the two-time defending champs, 129-107. Jake Layman added 17 points off the bench for the Blazers, who had eight players in double figures. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry each had 32 points for Golden State, but Klay Thompson shot just 2-for-16 in scoring nine points.
— Jeff Teague scored 27 points and the Timberwolves overcame James Harden’s 42 points to beat the Rockets, 121-111. Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 for Minnesota which went on an 18-2 run in the third quarter to go ahead to stay. Harden had his 31st consecutive game with 30 or more points, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the second-longest streak in league history.
— The Clippers clobbered the Suns, 134-107 as Lou Williams scored 30 points and Danilo Gallinari added 20. Montrezl Harrell scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half, and Ivan Zubac scored 16 for Los Angeles. Phoenix has lost 15 straight, tying a franchise mark set late last season.
— D’Angelo Russell provided 14 of his 36 points in the third overtime to send the Nets past the Cavaliers, 148-139. Joe Harris scored 25 points and DeMarre Carroll had 18, including a desperation 3-pointer at the horn to force the third OT. The Nets are 30-29 and over .500 at the All-Star break for the first time since 2013.
— Dwyane Wade scored 22 points in helping the Heat beat the Mavericks 112-101. Josh Richardson scored 14 points and Dion Waiters had 20 for the Mavericks, who outscored the Mavericks 32-16 in the third quarter and led by as many as 21 points in the fourth.
— Otto Porter Jr. scored a career-high 37 points on 16-for-20 shooting, and Robin Lopez added a season-high 25 points in the Bulls’ 122-110 win over the Grizzlies. Lauri Markkanen added 21 points as Chicago ended a franchise-record 11-game home losing streak.