DENVER (AP) — After falling into a big deficit in the first half, the New Orleans Pelicans had to play their way out of their early struggles.
Jrue Holiday scored 29 points, Julius Randle had 28 and the Pelicans rallied from 19 points down to beat the Denver Nuggets 120-112 on Saturday night.
Frank Jackson added 16 points for New Orleans, which was without Anthony Davis (rest) and E’Twaun Moore (thigh).
“We were just the hardest playing team, both offensively and defensively,” Jackson said. “We were able to get stops, we shared the ball well, we fed off our leaders’ energy.”
It also helped that they sent Denver’s best player to bench with early foul trouble. Nikola Jokic finished with 20 points but was limited to 6:23 in the first half when he accumulated three fouls, including two in the opening minutes.
“We got him in foul trouble and if he’s not on the floor he can’t score,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Even in limited minutes, he gets 20 points. He’s a great, great player, a terrific player. We did about as good a job as you’re going to do on him from the standpoint of not allowing him to be a facilitator.”
Jokic wound up playing for 21:34 in the game.
“Yeah, it’s always nice if you can have your best player on the floor for more than 21 minutes,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That’s back to back games where he has been in foul trouble. We have to avoid that because Nikola on the bench does not help us in any way, shape or form.”
Jamal Murray also had 20 points for Denver. It was the biggest blown lead of the season for the Nuggets, who have lost consecutive home games for the first time since early November. They lost 111-104 to Utah on Thursday night.
“We let other factors affect us,” Jokic said. “We let them take control of the game. We had the lead and were playing good defense. Then, we kind of relaxed and they used that against us.”
New Orleans took a 111-102 lead with 7:12 remaining on a 3-pointer by Holiday. Denver fought back within five points with just under a minute remaining but a turnover by Gary Harris denied the Nuggets a chance to get closer. Holiday, who had stolen the ball from Harris, converted a three-point play on the other end with 20.6 seconds left to play to seal the win for the Pelicans.
“I thought he was going to shoot the 3. I felt like they needed a 3 and when he kept going I felt like he had me beat so I tried to let him slide by and once he exposed the ball, get a hand in there,” Holiday said of his late-game steal.
The Pelicans used a 13-2 run to take an 82-81 lead, their first since the game’s opening moments, on Holiday’s layup with 7:03 left in the third quarter. New Orleans led 96-93 going into the fourth on Cheick Diallo’s dunk in the final moments of the third off Elfrid Payton’s alley oop pass over a Denver defense that was slow to get back against a New Orleans fast-break.
The Nuggets led by 19 points early in the second quarter but settled for a 71-67 lead at the half. After Isaiah Thomas hit a 10-foot floating jumper to put Denver up 49-30, New Orleans outscored the Nuggets 37-22 over a nearly 10-minute stretch during a 40-point second quarter to get back in the game. It was the eighth time this season the Pelicans have scored 40 or more points in a quarter.
Pelicans: F/C Davis was given the night off. Gentry said before the game that Davis was dealing with a bit of the flu. ... G E’Twaun Moore was held out of the game with a thigh issue. ... G Dairis Bertans has been signed out of the EuroLeague.
Nuggets: F Trey Lyles remains sidelined by a left hamstring strain. He has missed the last five games.
Pelicans: At Utah on Monday night
Nuggets: At San Antonio on Monday night to open a three-game trip.