DENVER | Juancho Hernangomez’s swooping right-handed swat was precisely the right stuff to help the Denver Nuggets stay unbeaten.
Turns out, this high-scoring Nuggets team can play a little defense, too.
Hernangomez blocked a tying layup from behind just before the buzzer and the Nuggets held off the Golden State Warriors 100-98 on Sunday night.
Trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter, the Warriors rallied and had a chance to tie it in the closing seconds. Stephen Curry drove down the lane and passed to big man Damian Jones, who had his shot rejected by Hernangomez.
“Huge,” said Gary Harris, who finished with 28 points.
The Nuggets improved to 3-0 despite missing 18 free throws, including six in the final quarter. The 3-0 start is Denver’s best since the 2009-10 squad led by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups began 5-0.
This victory was driven by defense. Denver was sluggish on the offensive end in the second game of a back-to-back but turned up the defensive intensity. The Nuggets forced 18 turnovers.
Denver has held all three teams it’s faced under 100 points.
“If we defend, we can pretty much outscore everyone in this league. Defense is really our main focus this year,” Nuggets forward Torrey Craig said.
That’s music to coach Michael Malone’s ears.
“This is how I envision us playing. Some people may call it ugly, but a win is a win, especially against that team — the reigning champs,” Malone said. “If we continue to defend at the level we’re defending at and we get our offensive rhythm going, I think we could be a really good team.”
Nikola Jokic had 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assist in his bid for a triple-double on a second straight night.
No surprise, Curry hit three straight 3-pointers in a 1:11 span to lead the comeback. He finished with 30 points and had six 3-pointers to move him past Paul Pierce for sixth place on the NBA’s career list.
Draymond Green had a chance to tie the game at 99-all with 9.6 seconds remaining, but his second free throw rolled out. Jamal Murray made one of two free throws on the other end to make it 100-98 and set the stage for Hernangomez, who was engulfed by teammates soon after his swat.
“That was a great play by, um, Juancho, right? It was a great block by him,” Kevin Durant said. “You’ve got to give him credit. Steph made a huge play, dropped it off. Can’t ask for anything better.”
Asked if he thought about pulling up for a 3-pointer, Curry responded: “No. I didn’t think about it this time. I was going downhill when I crossed court and I saw the lane wide open and realized what the score was. I liked our chances from there, but it didn’t work out that way.”
Durant showed off his true colors — wearing a yellow shoe on his right foot to go with a gold, white and hint of blue one on his left. He finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Murray briefly left in the third quarter with what appeared to be a left leg ailment. The team was already missing versatile forward Will Barton, who was carted off the court Saturday with a right hip injury.
Warriors: G Shaun Livingston sat out with a bruised left knee. “We need to have him ready for the long haul so night’s like this if he’s banged up we’ll rest him,” coach Steve Kerr explained. … Durant was given a technical foul in the third quarter for arguing a call.
Nuggets: The Nuggets are 21-7 at home against the Warriors since 2003-04.
Barton underwent an MRI on Sunday morning and Malone said the team will have a clearer idea how long me may be sidelined Monday.
“Hopefully we’ll get some good news,” Malone said.
With Barton sidelined, the Nuggets went with a rotation of Craig, Hernangomez and Trey Lyles. They combined for 19 points.
Through three games, the Warriors are 24 of 74 from 3-point range. Curry has 16 of the made shots.
“We’re just not executing,” Green said.
Warriors: Host Phoenix on Monday night. The Warriors have 13 back-to-back games this season.
Nuggets: Host Sacramento on Tuesday night.