Nikola Jokic scored 26 points, Jamal Murray had 15 of his 19 in the fourth quarter and the banged-up Denver Nuggets rallied past the equally banged-up Toronto Raptors 95-86 on Sunday night in a contest between conference leaders.
Trailing 70-57 in the third quarter, the Nuggets went on a 23-2 run to send them to their 10th win in 12 games and retain a slim lead over Golden State in the Western Conference. This marks the latest the Nuggets (20-9) have been in first place in the West since Dec. 18, 1984, according to information by Elias Sports Bureau.
Kawhi Leonard had 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors, who finished 2-2 on their trip. They still own the league's best mark at 23-9.
Murray led the charge with eight straight points early in the fourth. The defense stepped up, too, as the Raptors didn't score their first field goal in the final quarter until Leonard's dunk with 7:42 remaining.
Toronto pulled to 86-83 with 3:28 left, but Mason Plumlee's layup gave Denver some breathing room. The Raptors were 4 of 23 from the field in the fourth quarter, including 1 of 13 from 3-point land.
Both teams had several key players on the bench due to injuries. The Raptors were without Kyle Lowry (thigh), Pascal Siakam (back), Fred VanVleet (back) and Jonas Valanciunas (thumb).
The Nuggets didn't have Will Barton (right hip/core muscle surgery), Gary Harris (hip) and Paul Millsap (big toe).
Not that Nuggets coach Michael Malone gave it much thought.
"Teams look at us right now with players out, and they think they can show up and beat us," Malone said. "We've shown teams, 'No, that's not the case.' We have more than enough players that are going to go out there and battle and compete."
The Nuggets beat the Raptors 106-103 on Dec. 3 in Toronto. In that game, Jokic had 23 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds.
Jokic was a handful again. He also had nine rebounds.
Raptors: Danny Green was given a technical foul in the third quarter. He was poked in the eye by Monte Morris early in the fourth quarter. ... C Serge Ibaka fouled out with 1:37 remaining. He was given a technical after the call. ... Delon Wright got the start and had 15 points.
Nuggets: Plumlee had 10 points and seven rebounds.
INJURY UPDATE, PART I
Barton could return to the lineup in the next week or 10 days. He had surgery on Oct. 23 to repair core and hip muscle injuries.
"It would be great to have him back," Malone said. "He's such a versatile part of what we do."
INJURY UPDATE, PART II
Raptors coach Nick Nurse doesn't expect Lowry or Siakam to miss much time. Lowry sat out his second game with a bruised thigh, while Siakam was sidelined after experiencing back stiffness following a hard fall in Portland.
"There's nothing seriously wrong with either one of them," Nurse said. "There's just some soreness."
Raptors: Host Indiana on Wednesday.
Nuggets: Close out a four-game homestand on Tuesday against Dallas.