Nikola Jokic scored 37 points and the Denver Nuggets avoided being swept out of the NBA playoffs, holding off the Golden State Warriors 126-121.
The 27-year-old Serbian big man, last season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, also delivered eight rebounds and six assists as the Nuggets pulled within 3-1 in their best-of-seven first round series to force a fifth game on Wednesday at San Francisco.
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After Stephen Curry nailed a long jumper to give Golden State a 121-119 lead with 1:21 to play, Jokic made a layup, Monte Morris sank a go-ahead jumper with 33 seconds remaining and after a steal by Austin Rivers, Jokic fired a pass to Will Barton for the deciding corner 3-pointer with 8.3 seconds remaining.
No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, but Jokic says the Nuggets have the spirit to make history.
“That’s what we have, just fight,” he said. “We’ve really got our second wind so why not?” Morris had 24 points and Aaron Gordon added 21 for Denver.
Curry had 33 off the bench to lead Golden State while Thompson had 32 in his first 30-point playoff game since the 2019 NBA Finals.
A Curry layup, Andrew Wiggins dunk and Thompson jumper pulled the Warriors within 115-112 with 3:32 remaining. Jokic answered with a baseline jumper but Curry made two free throws and Wiggins jammed in a dunk with 2:28 to play to pull Golden State within 117-116.
Gordon sank two free throws to boost Denver’s lead but Curry sank a driving layup and added a free throw to lift the Warriors level at 119-119 with 1:47 remaining, setting up the thrilling finish.
The Warriors now face a big call for Game 5 on whether to finally inject Curry back into the starting line-up. The fact he played 37 minutes on Monday could be a hint that Curry’s time on the bench is over.
Previously, Curry had played 22, 23 and 27 minutes respectively in the first three games.
BUCKS CONTINUE EMPHATIC PUSH WITHOUT MIDDLETON
Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered game highs of 32 points and 17 rebounds to lead the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks over Chicago 119-95.
The Greek star centre also passed off seven assists and blocked two shots as the Bucks seized a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, which continues Thursday in Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo has now moved past Charles Barkley and Russell Westbrook for the 3rd-most 30-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist playoff games since the merger.
He now trails Larry Bird (19) and LeBron James (48).
Bucks reserve Grayson Allen was the unlikely hero, scoring 27 on 10-of-12 shooting, 6-of-7 from 3-point range, while Jrue Holiday added 26 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for Milwaukee.
“I’ve got to trust my teammates,” said Antetokounmpo.
“They know what the deal is. They can all make plays. The games become easy when you move the ball.” The Bulls, who haven’t won a home playoff game since 2015, were led by Zach LaVine with 24 points and 13 assists while DeMar DeRozan added 23 points.
Chicago shot only 38.9 per cent from the floor, a defensive effort Antetokounmpo said the Bucks must repeat if they want to end the series at home in game five.
“We’ve got to keep up our defence,” he said. “We’ve got to make it tough for them and we’ve got to hit our shots.”
The Bucks were without forward Khris Middleton, out for the remainder of the series due to a left knee injury suffered in a game two loss.
Portis replaced him, wearing glasses to protect an eye injury, and scored seven points in a 9-2 run that gave Milwaukee a 20-12 lead.
LaVine scored 12 points and assisted on four other first-quarter baskets to lift the Bulls within 25-22.
Antetokounmpo sank a turnaround jumper to give the Bucks their biggest lead at 39-28, back-to-back jumpers by Portis stretched it to 43-31 and back-to-back 3-pointers by Allen and Holiday made it 54-39 on the way to a 56-41 halftime lead.
Milwaukee began the second half with a 9-2 run for a game-high 65-43 edge. Chicago answered with an 17-3 spurt to pull within 68-60, only for the Bucks to reel off the next 11 points, Antetokounmpo scoring six and assisting on an Allen 3-pointer in the run for a 79-60 edge.
The Bulls came no closer than 13 points the rest of the way. Later playoff games Sunday find Golden State trying to complete a sweep at Denver, Miami at Atlanta and Phoenix at New Orleans.