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Jokic leads Nuggets fightback over fired-up Raptors

LOS ANGELES, March 13 ------ Nikola Jokic grabbed a 35-point triple-double as the Denver Nuggets staged a dramatic second-half fightback to defeat the short-handed Toronto Raptors, 125-119. Two-time Most Valuable Player Jokic produced a towering display to drag Denver back into contention after the NBA champions trailed by 22 points in the second quarter.  


A fired-up Toronto looked poised to score a notable upset after starting strong to open up a double-digit advantage. But Serbian star Jokic seized control of the game in the third, scoring 19 points as Denver outscored Toronto 42-30 to trim the visitors' lead to five points heading into the fourth. Denver's domination continued into the fourth and they finally took the lead midway through the final frame when Jamal Murray's layup put them 108-107 ahead. Denver outscored Toronto 32-21 in the fourth quarter to close out the win. "In the first half they scored a lot and we didn't play any defense," said Jokic after completing his 21st triple-double of the season. "We just needed to match and exceed their physicality and that's how we turned the game to our advantage. We were just fighting. The whole crew showed their character today. We're not quitters." 


Jokic led Denver's scoring while point guard Murray added 26 points with 12 assists and five rebounds. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. finished with 19 points each. R.J. Barrett led Toronto's scorers with 26 points, with Kelly Olynyk chipping in with 24. 


While Denver were forced to dig deep for their win, there were no such problems for Eastern Conference leaders Boston, who coasted to their 50th win of the season with a 121-99 blowout on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 27 points while Jayson Tatum finished with 26. In Cleveland, Kevin Durant finished with 37 points with eight rebounds and six assists as the Phoenix Suns overturned a 19-point deficit to down the Cavaliers 117-111. Devin Booker added 27 points for Phoenix while Bradley Beal weighed in with 24 to give the Suns a battling victory on the road. Darius Garland led Cleveland's scoring with 30 points. Cleveland surged into a big early lead after a 41-point first quarter, extending their advantage to 63-44 with just under five minutes remaining in the second. But Phoenix roared back to outscore the Cavs 19-7 in the final minutes of the half to close the gap to within seven points. 


Phoenix kept up that momentum in the third period, outscoring the Cavs 34-21 to take the lead and then holding on down the stretch to close out the victory. Phoenix improved to 38-27 to remain in sixth place in the Western Conference. In San Antonio, the Golden State Warriors shook off a slow start to take down the Spurs 112-102, two days after losing 126-113 to the Texan club. San Antonio led by 11 points in the first quarter and held a 10-point lead early in the third. But a trademark high-scoring third quarter from Golden State -- outscoring the Spurs 32-18 -- swung the game back in the visitors' favor. With the Warriors missing the injured Stephen Curry, Jonathan Kuminga led their scoring with 22 points, while Klay Thompson added 21 and Chris Paul 19. San Antonio's French rookie Victor Wembanyama finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. 


In Chicago, Luka Doncic finished with 27 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds to claim his 17th triple-double of the season as the Dallas Mavericks cruised past the Bulls 127-92. The tone was set in the first quarter as the Mavericks erupted to outscore Chicago 44-16 to open up a commanding 28-point lead. Dereck Lively II had 22 points off the bench while Daniel Gafford added 20 and Kyrie Irving 14. Dallas improved to 37-28 to sit in eighth place in the Western standings. Chicago, ninth in the Eastern Conference, fell to 31-34. 




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