Jokic scores 31, Nuggets top Spurs 117-106 in front of record crowd in Texas' capital city

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Nikola Jokic scored 31 points and the Denver Nuggets beat San Antonio 117-106 on Friday night in a game played in the Texas capital as the Spurs drew a record crowd in their bid to broaden their regional fan base.

After having his initial shot blocked by San Antonio rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama, Jokic went 13 for 19 from the field. The reigning NBA Finals MVP added seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

“I don’t think anybody can do what Nikola does,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s amazing. Fantastic.”

Jamal Murray added 15 points and 10 assists for Denver, which won its fifth straight game and for the 11th time in 12 games to remain atop the Western Conference standings.

Jeremy Sochan scored 19 points and Devin Vassell and Wembanyama each had 17 points for San Antonio, which lost its third straight.

The Spurs have played in Austin the last two seasons to broaden their reach financially and build their fan base. The move proved a popular choice as the Spurs set the attendance record for a sporting event at the Moody Center with 16,223 on Friday.

Still, Nuggets coach Michael Malone was concerned his team would not have the right mindset, since Austin is not a traditional NBA city.

“It has a preseason feel to it,” Malone said prior to the game. “I hope for our players that once the jump ball goes up that we understand this is not the preseason, this is a real game. We have to lock in and give it the attention and respect that it deserves.”

The game had its difficulties logistically. Teams were unfamiliar with where to go in the stadium. Monitors and video boards for statistics were not updating or were completely out, and Spurs radio announcer Bill Schoening had to deliver his broadcast over his cellphone.

But, any concern Malone had about how the defending NBA champions would respond were quickly dashed.

The Nuggets shot 55% from the field and led by as many as 21 points.

Denver forced 16 turnovers, which led to 27 points.

“Just tremendous activity,” Malone said. “You want to be disruptive defensively. You don’t want to let teams run their offense script and let them get whatever shot they want. You want to disrupt them and make teams feel you and I think we are doing a really good job of it.”

Despite Wembanyama’s early block on Jokic, Denver attacked the rim with impunity. Aaron Gordon had an alley-oop dunk one possession after dunking with Wembanyama trailing closely. Michael Porter Jr. followed by completing a three-point play on a contested layup and foul by Julian Champagnie.

Porter finished with 13 points and Gordon had seven.

Denver went on a 12-0 run in the opening quarter and built a 19-point lead.

“When we play defense like that, we make our life really easier,” Jokic said. “We are a good running team. We can get to the basket; we can shoot some open 3s. We can have some easy offense. Our defense is something that needs to be there every day and today it was there.”

The Spurs cut their deficit to 81-77 on Keldon Johnson’s contested layup against Jokic with 1:23 remaining in third, but the Nuggets quickly rebuilt a double-digit lead in the fourth.

“Somethings you can’t match,” Popovich said. “You can’t match the talent level that they have right now with (Spurs’) young team, but you see what it takes. The consistency, we have the effort, I’m proud of the way we played. We were really shaky in the first quarter, like almost too much respect in a sense. We looked a little hesitant and they got it back together and played well through about halfway through the third quarter and then Murray took over and Jokic took over.”

UP NEXT

Nuggets: At Dallas on Sunday night.

Spurs: Host Brooklyn on Sunday night.

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