DENVER – Nikola Jokic swung his right hand down as Zion Williamson was going in for a game-tying, two-handed dunk.
At least, that was the ruling on the floor.
Known for his offensive heroics, Jokic came up big on the other end by blocking Williamson’s shot from behind with 2.2 seconds remaining as the Denver Nuggets held off the New Orleans Pelicans 114-112 Wednesday night.
“He went to dunk and I was going hard just to not let him score,” explained Jokic, who finished with 32 points. “I was aiming for the ball.”
Leading by nine points with 52.8 seconds remaining, the Nuggets seemed to have this all sewn up. But they committed one turnover after another and had to withstand a furious rally by the Pelicans, who cut the lead to 114-112 with 9.9 seconds remaining. Then, another Denver turnover.
Williamson was going in for a jam when Jokic slid over to knock the ball away.
Asked about his reaction to the play, Williamson simply said: “They didn’t call it. Not much I can do about that. Just got to learn from it.”
Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said Williamson has never been one to flop or lobby for calls. His brute force, though, may work to his disadvantage.
“I do think that strength gets punished in this league a lot more than quickness,” Van Gundy said. “If you’re able to go through contact a little bit it’s called differently. If you fall down every time you’re hit or you flop you get calls. That’s just the way it is. It’s not just Zion. That’s just the way it is.”
Some acting lessons in order for Williamson?
“I cannot imagine going to a player and telling him to start flopping,” Van Gundy said. “I can’t imagine that’s what you have to do. I could never bring myself to do that with a player. But it is frustrating to him on some of the calls. But what are you going to do?”
Michael Porter Jr. added 28 points and Facundo Campazzo made three critical 3-pointers down the stretch on his way to a career-high 19 points. Aaron Gordon contributed 10 points while also keeping close tabs on Williamson in a game where the Nuggets never trailed.
Denver improved to 7-1 since standout point guard Jamal Murray was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Brandon Ingram scored 27 points, while Lonzo Ball recorded a triple-double with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Williamson had 21 points and two rebounds for a New Orleans team that’s trying to climb into the playoff picture. The Pelicans entered the night 11th in the West.
Porter had two critical layups in the fourth. But on his second one, he crashed to the floor and stayed down for a moment after rolling his ankle. He gingerly walked to the bench for a timeout before returning after the break. Porter soon hit a 3-pointer.
It was fitful final two minutes for Nuggets coach Michael Malone, though. His team had eight total turnovers in the final quarter.
“The game should never have been that close. We all realize that,” Malone said. “We all have to be better.”
TIP-INSPelicans: F James Johnson is on a minutes restriction as he returns from a strained adductor. He had two points in 7:40. ... Center Steven Adams was back after missing a game with a sprained toe. He had two points.
Nuggets: Guards Monte Morris and Will Barton were both out with hamstring injuries. ... Campazzo had 10 assists.
STOPPING ZIONThe hard-to-contain Williamson averaged 34.5 points over the previous two meetings against Denver this season. But the Nuggets didn’t have Gordon, who was acquired in a deal with Orlando on March 25. Gordon — along with Paul Millsap — helped hold the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Williamson in check. Williamson didn’t pull down his first board until 10:36 remaining.
NO MURRAY, STILL WINNINGIt’s no surprise to Malone his team is still winning despite no Murray.
“If you thought we were going to stop playing and quit because one player went down, well then you haven’t been watching us for six years,” Malone said. “We’re a good team.”
DIDI SIGNINGVan Gundy isn’t quite sure how he will work newly signed guard Didi Louzada into the rotation just yet.
“He’s a long-term play. We’re glad to have him with us,” Van Gundy explained.
UP NEXTPelicans: At Oklahoma City on Thursday.
Nuggets: Host Toronto on Thursday.