DENVER — — Nikola Jokic blocked Jae’Sean Tate’s drive to the basket when time ran out and the short-handed Denver Nuggets escaped with a 95-94 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday.
Jokic finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds as the Nuggets won despite striker Michael Porter Jr.’s absence.
Porter left the game with 4:50 remaining in the first quarter and did not return due to what the team called low back pain. Porter missed a fast-break layup early in the game and entered the field cautiously. He stayed in the game for more than four minutes before leaving.
Coach Michael Malone had no update on Porter after the game.
Aaron Gordon had nine points, including a pair of corner three-pointers, his last with 51 seconds left to put Denver in the lead.
The Nuggets had a chance to move up three, but PJ Dozier missed a shot with 12.8 left. The Rockets ran across the field and Eric Gordon went into the lane and passed the ball to Tate, who drove the baseline and went up for a possible winning basket, but Jokic blocked it.
Jokic was harassed on the field by his teammates after the blockade.
“I didn’t jump, I went up, I didn’t even block it,” he said. “I think I really hit him when I was jumping. Like a poke – I poked the ball.”
Tate finished with 10 points to Houston, which has lost seven in a row.
“Honestly, I thought I had committed a foul,” he said. “I could have stayed in the corner; I should have stayed in the corner.”
After speaking to reporters, Tate wrote on Twitter, “I take it back, that was a good block.”
Jokic also had a last-second blockade in Minnesota to maintain a win against the Timberwolves on October 30.
Christian Wood had 12 points and 17 rebounds and Daniel Theis scored 18 points in his return to the lineup. Theis’ three-pointer from the top of the circle had given the Rockets a 94-89 lead with 2:44 to go.
“This one stings because we were ahead for most of the game and we were five with 2 1/2 minutes to go and they hit the two 3’s,” said coach Stephen Silas.
The Rockets led in the first half with no fewer than eight and at halftime 47-46. The Nuggets continued on Will Barton’s dunk and extended their lead to six midway through the third quarter. Despite Jokic’s 12 points and seven rebounds in the third, Houston trailed just 72-71 en route to fourth.
Denver led early in the fourth with seven, but couldn’t put Houston away.
“There is no easy game for us,” said Jokic.
Rockets: Silas said that Daniel House Jr. could return to the lineup against Golden State on Sunday night. He missed the last five games with a right foot sprain. … Theis had missed two games with pain in his right big toe.
Nuggets: Barton had 15 points, the only other Denver player in double figures. The Nuggets have won six straight home games against Houston and five straight overall.
The Denver bench has struggled this season, but one bright spot is rookie guard Bones Hyland’s play. Hyland, the 26th pick of the 2021 draft, has made his way into the rotation after playing the first three games. He impressed Malone, who is willing to stay with him despite the growing pains.
Hyland went 1-for-7 on Saturday and had a number of turnovers, including one when he dribbled the ball off his leg and out of bounds.
“Bones will have a chance to play and play some important minutes,” said Malone. “The only way he learns and gets better is to get through those mistakes. Not once did I say the minutes he’s had, ‘Wow, he’s not in his element at all.’”
Rockets: Sunday night in Golden State.
Nuggets: Host Miami on Monday nights.