NEW ORLEANS — With Nikola Jokic and Jerami Grant aggressively crashing the offensive glass, the Denver Nuggets were able to overcome an off night shooting on the road for an unusual but gratifying victory.
Jokic had 27 points and grabbed seven of his 12 rebounds on the offensive end and the Nuggets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 113-106 on Friday night.
Not only did the Nuggets win while shooting below 40%, but they also played most of the second half without coach Michael Malone on the sideline after he received two quick technical fouls from official Eric Lewis with 9:10 left in the third quarter.
“Obviously. I have to do a better job of being a leader and controlling those competitive emotions, but I always feel it’s also necessary to fight for your guys, to stand up for your guys,” said Malone, who received his initial technical for arguing a foul called against Grant and the second for his reaction to the first. “I was just proud of the fact that they were able to pull this one out.”
Zion Williamson scored 15 points in about 21 minutes for New Orleans. The Pelicans dropped to 0-2 since the NBA’s top overall draft choice was activated for the first time this season Wednesday night following more than three months rehabilitating from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
While the Pelicans have thus far restricted Williamson’s playing time, he looked healthy when he dunked an alley-oop feed from Holiday and vaulted his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame skyward to swat Malik Beasley’s 8-foot floating jumper several rows back in the stands.
“My conditioning was a lot better even though it’s only been one game and I feel like I’m getting my chemistry back with my teammates,” Williamson said. “I feel like I played all right.”
Denver finished with season highs of 24 offensive rebounds and 35 second-chance points.
“The stat that jumps out to me is the rebounding,” Malone said. “The fact that we were able to pull this out playing hard and getting contributions from so many people is great to watch.”
Grant grabbed six of his nine rebounds on the offensive end and had 14 points. Torrey Graig and Michael Porter Jr. each had three offensive rebounds.
Porter Jr. and Craig each had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Denver. The Nuggets improved to 3-2 since guard Jamal Murray went out with a left ankle sprain.
Denver led for most of the game and by as many as 15 points. The Pelicans were as close as 109-106 on Josh Hart’s 3 with 1:19 remaining when rebounding problems that plagued them throughout the game struck again on Jokic’s missed 3. Will Barton grabbed Denver’s final offensive rebound and hit a driving layup with 48.7 seconds left.
“I don’t think we wanted it enough tonight,” Williamson said. “It wasn’t really difficult dealing with their size. It was a matter of finding a man and boxing him out. Simple as that.”
The Pelicans outshot Denver 46.3% to 37.7%, but committed 17 turnovers and missed 12 free throws. The Nuggets outrebounded New Orleans 56-45. The Nuggets’ offensive rebounding gave them 106 shot attempts to New Orleans’ 82.
JJ Redick scored 18 points for New Orleans and Hart finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench.
Nuggets: Will Barton scored 13 points, while Monte Morris and Malik Beasley each added 10 points in reserve roles. … Denver improved to 21-3 when outrebounding its opponent. … Malone’s ejection was his first this season.
Pelicans: Brandon Ingram scored 13 points but missed 8 of 11 shots. … Holiday had 12 points but missed 12 of 17 shots. … E’Twaun Moore scored 10 points in 14:28 off the bench. … Redick now has 1,832 career 3-pointers, passing Kobe Bryant for 15th and Chauncey Billups for 14th in NBA history.
The Pelicans outscored Denver by 16 when Williamson was in the game. He soared to the hoop for a crowd-pleasing finger roll in which he flamboyantly transferred the ball from his right hand to his left before shooting. His layup, 9-foot turnaround from the lane and three rebounds helped fuel a 14-2 run that gave New Orleans a brief, 72-70 lead in the third quarter.
Williamson was subbed out for the final time with 6:52 left in the game and fans chanted, “We want Zion,” during the final minutes as the Pelicans tried to come back.
Williamson said whether he starts or finishes a quarter, “hasn’t really been up to me. I’m just playing whenever they need me.”
Nuggets: Host Houston on Sunday.
Pelicans: Host Boston on Sunday night in the last of three straight home games.