MIAMI (AFP) – Nikola Jokic posted a 26-point triple double as the Denver Nuggets held off a ferocious late fightback from the Golden State Warriors to defeat the NBA champions 128-123 on the road on Friday.
Two-time and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic led from the front as Denver bounced back from a midweek drubbing against Utah to dig in for a deserved victory at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
Serbian star Jokic led the Denver scoring and had 12 rebounds with 10 assists as seven Denver players finished in double figures.
Stephen Curry topped the scorers for Golden State with 34 points but the Warriors fell just short of completing a spectacular second-half comeback after trailing by 18 points at the break.
Denver erupted for 70 first-half points – including 40 in the first quarter – but were gradually reeled in down the stretch with the Warriors closing to within one point at 124-123 with 14 seconds remaining after Jordan Poole’s steal and layup.
But a brilliant length-of-the-court pass from Jokic set up a dunk for Bruce Brown which gave Denver a decisive three-point lead to close out the win.
“We expected them to come out and play aggressively,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They just came out with way more force than we did. It’s tough playing upstream against a good team, but it was just too much to overcome.”
In other games, Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant erupted for 49 points in a 129-122 victory over the Houston Rockets.
Houston led by 16 points at one stage in the second quarter before taking a 70-62 lead at the break.
But Morant led a resurgent Memphis in the second half to seal a roller-coaster win.
“I know I’m the spark on this team,” Morant said. “Being a leader I know I have to do that. That’s my job, that’s why I came out to try and get us back in the game.
“Credit to the group, without the rest of the guys I wouldn’t have been able to have the game I had tonight.”
Elsewhere, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown came up big once again as the Boston Celtics maintained their perfect start to the season with a 111-104 victory over the Miami Heat.
Tatum, who scored 35 points in Boston’s season-opening defeat of Philadelphia on Tuesday, produced a 29-point salvo as the Celtics outmuscled their Eastern Conference rivals on the road in Florida.
Brown, who also scored 35 points in Tuesday’s victory over the Sixers, backed Tatum with 28 points in another polished offensive performance.
Derrick White and Grant Williams were the only other players in double figures for Boston with 10 points apiece.
Friday’s clash marked another meeting between the two Eastern Conference rivals, who have faced each other in the post-season in two of the past three seasons.
“I love playing against the Heat – we’ve got some history the last couple of years,” Tatum told ESPN.
“They make you a better team. They’ve got a lot of pride, a lot of great players and a great coach. They never quit, so it’s always a good test to play against a team like that because you know it’s going to be a battle.”
Jonas Valanciunas led the scoring as New Orleans preserved their unbeaten record with a 124-112 road win over the Charlotte Hornets.
In Brooklyn, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined for 57 points as the Nets bounced back from their season-opening loss with a 109-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Durant scored 27 points while Irving led the scorers with 30 points – including five three-pointers – as the Nets overturned a 10-point third-quarter deficit to claim victory.
Atlanta made it two wins out of two with a 108-98 defeat of the Orlando Magic, Trae Young leading the scoring for the Hawks with 25 points.
Orlando’s scoring included a 20-point haul from Paolo Banchero, the number one pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
Washington are also unbeaten after two games following a 102-100 win against the Chicago Bulls.