DENVER — Jamal Murray knew Denver was scoring at a nice clip and getting some timely stops in the third quarter.
To the tune of a 24-0 run? Now that caught him by surprise.
“I mean,” Murray said, “I didn’t even realize it.”
Paul Millsap started the pivotal stretch and Murray helped keep it going as the Nuggets rallied for a 113-104 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
For more than six minutes, the Nuggets kept scoring and scoring on one end and making stop after stop on the other.
Sure, the scores were nice, but the stops were what immensely pleased Nuggets coach Michael Malone.
“No doubt in my mind the defense was able to fuel the offense and the guys got into a rhythm,” Malone said. “We never gave up.”
Murray finished with 33 points, including 13 in that third quarter. Millsap scored 14 of his 15 points during the third in his return from a strained quadriceps. Even more, Millsap rattled off Denver’s first 12 points of the second half and launched the game-altering run.
Trailing 69-50 with 9:18 left in the third, the Nuggets stormed back. By the time the pivotal quarter was over, Denver had an 84-76 lead and was on its way to an eighth straight win over the Magic.
After the game, Malone’s message to Millsap was simple — welcome back.
“Guys just want to win,” said Millsap, who also had 12 rebounds as he returned after missing two games. “We weren’t really ourselves in the first half. It was sloppy. … Second half, we know what our staple is and that’s on the defensive end. We got some stops and got out and ran.”
Nikola Jokic added 18 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
After the decisive run by Denver, the Magic regained their composure and sliced it to 98-96 with 4:30 remaining. But Murray hit a fade-away and a 3-pointer to extend the lead.
“We did a good job of handling their runs, especially in the fourth,” Murray said.
For a half, the Magic looked like the more energetic team despite a seven-point loss in Utah on Tuesday. They ran out of steam after halftime. Orlando went 5 of 23 from the floor in the third quarter. The Magic also lost their cool in the quarter, too, with coach Steve Clifford and guard D.J. Augustin each drawing technical fouls.
“We couldn’t make shots and we got good looks. We let it affect our defense,” said Nikola Vucevic, who scored 20 points. “We let our heads drop and it cost us.”
Orlando erupted for 60 points in the opening half against the defensive-minded Nuggets, who entered allowing a league-low 101.7 points per game.
There was a comical moment early in the first quarter when Murray tried to tip the ball away from a defender and accidentally knocked it into the Magic hoop. Vucevic happened to be in the vicinity and received credit for the basket.
Murray just stared in disbelief for a moment. He knows that could end up on TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal’s “Shaqtin a Fool” segment.
“I was just trying to tip it to myself,” Murray explained. “I tipped it too hard.”
Magic: Fell to 1-3 on the second night of a back-to-back this season. … F Aaron Gordon picked up a technical late in the fourth. … Augustin had 18 points. … F Jonathan Isaac experienced some tightness in his hamstring. He played 17 minutes and had seven points. “I don’t think anything is hurt,” he said. “I just wanted to take it easy.”
Nuggets: Murray was 9 of 10 from the free throw line.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
The spelling of their first names may be the same, but the pronunciation remains vastly different between Denver’s Nikola (ni-KOLA) and Orlando’s Nikola (KNEE-coal-uh).
It was quite an entertaining showdown between the two big men.
Jokic finished a rebound shy of his 33rd career triple-double.
FAN OF FULTZ
Count Malone as a big fan of Markelle Fultz. Malone appreciates the guard’s ability to make the most of his opportunity in Orlando after being a No. 1 pick by Philadelphia.
“I root for kids like that,” Malone said. “What he went through I’m sure wasn’t easy for him.”
As a coach, Malone is exhausted following a recent stretch that included eight games in 12 days.
“If I’m this tired, imagine how our players are,” he said.
That’s why Malone’s managing their court time by nixing shootarounds.
“There are a lot of ways to approach load management,” Malone said.
Magic: At Portland on Friday to finish a four-game trip.
Nuggets: Host Minnesota on Friday. Won five straight over the Timberwolves.