Isaiah Thomas receives standing ovation in season debut, Nuggets’ win
DENVER — Ejected in the first half, Nuggets coach Michael Malone didn’t get to an in-person look at Isaiah Thomas’s first 3-pointer in a Denver uniform. He also didn’t watch from his usual vantage point as Nikola Jokic tipped in the winner.
The raucous reverberations from inside the arena told him everything.
Jokic knocked in a basket with less than a second remaining, Thomas, the former Celtic, hit two big 3-pointers in his long-awaited Denver debut and the Nuggets held off the Sacramento Kings, 120-118, on Wednesday night.
‘‘This was one of the few home games that’s gone down to the wire, which is good for us,’’ said Malone, who watched from the locker room after receiving two technicals just before halftime. ‘‘We need to continue to be challenged and be forced to execute and get stops.’’
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 to help Denver overcome a 17-point first-half deficit.
Down six late, the Kings tied it on Buddy Hield’s layup with 15.1 seconds. In a timeout, it became next-coach-up time in the Denver huddle. Wes Unseld. Jr., filling in for Malone, helped design a play to get Jokic open.
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.
‘‘Coach Wes, everybody, all stepped up,’’ said Jamal Murray, whose team is a league-best 25-4 at home this season.
Hield wouldn’t mind another crack at that shot.
‘‘I was trying to find the rim but I didn’t get my eye on the rim,’’ said Hield, who led six Sacramento players in double figures with 25 points. ‘‘On to the next. Enjoy the weekend we have coming up.’’
The Nuggets head into the All-Star break with a 39-18 record and on the heels of Golden State for the top spot in the Western Conference. Denver’s 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.
Thomas scored his first basket of the season on a 3-pointer with 2:16 left in the third quarter. Moments later, he drained another 3-pointer that gave Denver its first lead since early in the game.
‘‘When my name is called, I'm going to always be ready,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘When I'm in the game, I'm going to make it hard for the coach to take me out.’’