DENVER | Nikola Jokic turned in his ninth triple-double of the season, Jerami Grant scored a season-high 25 points and the Denver Nuggets held off the Houston Rockets 117-110 on a melancholy Sunday as players and fans learned about an hour before the game of the helicopter crash that killed NBA great Kobe Bryant.
The mood was somber all afternoon. A few of the Nuggets sat at their lockers before the game, staring at their phones in disbelief with the Bryant news starting to appear. The 41-year-old Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among the nine people killed in the crash near Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
The Nuggets held a moment of silence before the tip-off, with fans chanting, “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” right after.
Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker were visibly upset during the tribute, while Austin Rivers covered his eyes with his hand. Rivers also had a tribute to Bryant on his shoes. So did Tucker, who wrote “There will never be another.” (Reaction to Bryant’s passing, here).
Jokic finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists to help the Nuggets even the season series with Houston at two apiece. The Rockets were without leading scorer James Harden, who sat out with a bruised left thigh.
The game featured 12 lead changes heading into the fourth quarter, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Monte Morris helped the Nuggets gain some separation. Grant wrapped things up with a block of Russell Westbrook in the closing seconds.
Westbrook scored 22 of his 32 points in the second half and Eric Gordon added 19 in the absence of Harden.
Michael Porter Jr. finished with 17 points for the short-handed Nuggets, who were without Jamal Murray (left ankle sprain), forward Paul Millsap (bruised left knee) and backup center Mason Plumlee (right foot).
Rockets: Westbrook had 10 turnovers. … Clint Capela grabbed 12 rebounds.
Nuggets: Coach Michael Malone challenged an offensive call on Will Barton in the third quarter. The call was overturned. … It was Jokic’s 37th career triple-double. … Morris finished with 17.
Rockies All-Star shortstop Trevor Story drained the pregame free throw while wearing a pair of Kobe Bryant shoes. Story has always been a big fan of the player dubbed Black Mamba.
“The way he played the game was so inspiring to me,” Story said. “The Mamba mentality, you try to mimic that. The intensity he played with was so special. It’s hard to even fathom right now.”
OFF THE CHARTS
So, on a scale of 1 to 10, just how difficult is it to prepare for a Houston team that can boast two MVP candidates?
“Eleven,” Malone said. “It’s hard. They present a lot of problems, not just for us but everyone else in the NBA.”
Rockets: At Utah on Monday. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni listed Harden as doubtful for the game against the Jazz and added that Westbrook will sit it out.
Nuggets: At Memphis on Tuesday. The Nuggets are 2-0 against the Grizzlies this season.