DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic tipped in a basket with less than a second remaining, Isaiah Thomas hit two big 3-pointers in his long-awaited Denver debut and the Nuggets held off the Sacramento Kings 120-118 on Wednesday night.
Jokic finished with 20 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists for his 28th career triple-double, and Paul Millsap matched a season high with 25 points as Denver overcame a 17-point first-half deficit.
Down six late, the Kings tied it on Buddy Hield’s layup with 15.1 seconds. After a timeout, Jokic went to work down low, missing his first shot attempt before tipping it in. Hield’s last-gasp 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer.
The Nuggets head into the All-Star break with a 39-18 record and the top spot in the Northwest Division. They’re trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2012-13.
Thomas proclaimed his surgically repaired hip good to go prior to the game and was anxious to step back onto the court. He received a standing ovation when he entered the game late in the first quarter.
The 30-year-old Thomas showed flashes of his talent in shaking off some rust. He played 13 minutes and scored eight points — all in the third quarter — in his first NBA game since March 22 when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets signed the two-time All-Star to a one-year deal in the offseason and gave him plenty of space to recover from his hip operation.
Hield led six Sacramento players in double figures with 25 points. De’Aaron Fox had 15 points and 10 assists.
Jokic did a little bit of everything, including a pass off the backboard to himself for a layup and another full-length pass for an easy basket. The team is now 24-4 when Jokic goes for a triple-double, including 16-0 at home.
Thomas scored his first basket of the season on a 3-pointer with 2:16 left in the third quarter. He later hit another 3-pointer that gave Denver its first lead since early in the game.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was ejected with 1:33 remaining in the second quarter for arguing a call. He was given a standing ovation as he steamed off the floor. Wes Unseld Jr. took over on the bench and helped draw up the final play.
Kings: Sacramento scored 41 points in the first quarter. … F Harrison Barnes had 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Asked to talk about Thomas, Malone quipped: “I was hoping we could talk about Joe Flacco.”
The veteran QB was acquired by the Denver Broncos on Wednesday in a trade with Baltimore that will become official next month when the league’s new year begins, a person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press.
“I want to welcome him to Nuggets country,” Malone cracked.
Kings: After the All-Star break, resume a road swing by playing at Golden State on Feb. 21.
Nuggets: At Dallas on Feb. 22.