In the fourth quarter, Jamal Murray’s shot finally started falling.
“About time,” the Denver guard said.
About time, too, to take the Nuggets as a serious, pesky threat.
Nikola Jokic on Sunday scored 26 points and Murray had 15 of his 19 in the fourth quarter as the banged-up Nuggets rallied past the equally banged-up Toronto Raptors 95-86 in a contest between conference leaders.
Trailing 70-57 in the third quarter, the Nuggets went on a 23-2 run to send them to their 10th win in 12 games and retain a slim lead over Golden State in the Western Conference.
It marks the latest the Nuggets (20-9) have been in first place in the Western Conference since Dec. 18, 1984, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s December,” Mason Plumlee said. “It’s a long way to go.”
Still, they have now beaten the Raptors (twice), Golden State and Boston.
“I guess maybe it says we’re the best team for the time being,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “There are a lot of games left. I think one thing we’ve done a really good job of is tempering our own excitement.”
Kawhi Leonard had 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors, who finished 2-2 on their trip. They still own the league’s best mark at 23-9.
Murray led the charge with eight straight points early in the fourth quarter.
The defense stepped up, too, as the Raptors did not score their first field goal in the final quarter until Leonard’s dunk with 7 minutes, 42 seconds remaining.
Toronto pulled to 86-83 with 3:28 left, but Plumlee’s easy bucket gave Denver some breathing room.
The Raptors were four of 23 from the field in the fourth quarter, including one of 13 from three-point range.
More alarming to Raptors coach Nick Nurse was that Leonard only had four free throws, despite all his work around the rim.
“You can’t tell me one of the best players in the league takes a hundred hits in that game and shoots four free throws,” Nurse said. “It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everybody play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand.”
Leonard agreed, but shrugged it off.
“It’s been very physical. I just go with the next play,” Leonard said. “I pride myself on just keep moving and keep going.”
In Sunday’s other games it was:
‧ 76ers 128, Cavaliers 105
‧ Wizards 128, Lakers 110
‧ Heat 102, Pelicans 96
‧ Kings 120, Mavericks 113
‧ Pacers 110, Knicks 99
‧ Nets 144, Hawks 127
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