BOSTON — After Nikola Jokic scored 43 of Denver’s 99 points in what ultimately was a 112-99 loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Jokic’s teammates need to do more to support their superstar center.
“It’s not running out of gas,” Malone said, referring to Jokic scoring just four of those 43 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night. “He needs help. … We’re playing a back-to-back [Wednesday], and every night Nikola goes out there and literally puts this team on his back. He just needs some guys to step up and help him.”
The Nuggets — who played Tuesday without three starters (Gary Harris, Will Barton and Paul Millsap) and two more rotation players (sixth man Monte Morris and wing PJ Dozier) — didn’t give Jokic much against the Celtics. It almost didn’t matter, as Jokic made all six shots in the first quarter for 15 points, before adding 14 in the second quarter and 10 more in the third.
But after re-entering the game in the fourth, he looked tired, and missed a few clean looks that could’ve gotten him within range of a second 50-point game this season as he continues to make himself one of the frontrunners for the MVP award.
It was not nearly as enjoyable of a night for the rest of the Nuggets. Jamal Murray shot well, finishing with 25 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, but he committed a career-high 9 turnovers — more than half of Denver’s 17 giveaways.
And while point guard Facundo Campazzo was impressive in his first career start, finishing with 15 points and eight assists in a game-high 40 minutes, the rest of the Nuggets were a combined 8-for-23 from the field, including 0-for-15 from 3-point range.
“Jamal tried to get it going but he can’t have nine turnovers on the road as our starting guard,” Malone said. “And he knows that. Other guys have to find ways to contribute. But it speaks to how well Nikola is playing. He leaves it all out there every night. That’s why he’s an MVP candidate, obviously, but it can’t be just one guy in this league. You need others to step up and contribute, and hopefully we get that [Wednesday] night.”
Murray and Jokic went out of their way not to criticize their teammates who were playing, which included first-round picks Zeke Nnaji and R.J. Hampton, saying that they believe the players on the court are good enough to win.
And in Murray’s case, he shouldered the blame for the loss.
“Very winnable game,” Murray said. “It really don’t matter so much who is out there. It’s just the little details that hurt us a little bit … I put this game on me because I don’t think I’ve ever had nine turnovers. [That’s] nine plays, nine possessions we could’ve had back.”
It was a particularly ugly game for Denver’s starting forwards, Michael Porter Jr. and JaMychal Green. They combined to go 1-for-15 from the field, including 0-for-7 from 3-point range, in a total of 53 minutes.
Porter is now a combined 2-for-18 on 3-pointers the past three games.
“I can’t make shots,” Malone said. “That’s one thing I can’t do from the bench. I mean, Michael Porter rebounded the ball, but right now, in the last five, six, seven games, he’s really struggling to make shots, especially from the 3-point line. We know he’ll bounce back. He’s too good of a shooter not to. He’s just got to make sure, when shots are not going in, what else can I do to help my team? JaMychal Green, same thing. He’s getting good looks, had a couple shots that went in and out, around the basket from 3, we’ve just got to stay with guys.
“As long as they’re generating good looks, I want those guys to continue to shoot the ball, and obviously if we can generate a few easy ones, get to the foul line, maybe that will help their confidence as well.”
Jokic shrugged when asked whether he’s growing frustrated about the inability of his teammates to produce.
“No, I’m not [frustrated],” he said. “We know, especially today, it’s a completely different lineup. … I think it’s just a different type of game for everybody right now. But we need to adjust. Everybody needs to step up.”