It didn’t take long Thursday night to realize the Nuggets were in trouble without Nikola Jokic in the lineup. Denver fell behind 12-3 early. The Nuggets opened the first quarter shooting 0-9. It didn’t get much better from there.
The Nuggets’ 107-88 loss to the Pelicans saw Denver’s offense creep to a low point for the season. It’s the first time this year that the Nuggets were held under 90 points. Jamal Murray scored a team-high 21 and shot 4-10 from 3-point range, but his teammates combined to shoot 0-18 from beyond the arc. Without the back-to-back MVP, the Nuggets had no structure, no form, and at the end of the day, no nothing.
“Where did the game go wrong?” Michael Malone was asked after the loss.
“Well, Nikola didn’t play,” he said.
So let’s focus on a positive from Thursday’s loss: Christian Braun’s minutes. Braun and Bruce Brown (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) actually played well off the bench vs. the Pelicans, and Denver’s second unit was actually decent. Defensively, that group was solid.
Braun had three electrifying dunks. All three blew the roof off Ball Arena.
Dunk No. 1: Sometimes Braun’s athleticism pops out of nowhere, like on this play. He turns the corner on Josh Richardson, takes one dribble, and skies right over Brandon Ingram.
Power and grace.
Dunk No. 2: Braun always runs the floor hard. It’s one of his elite role player characteristics. CJ McCollum doesn’t sink get deep enough and Braun takes advantage.
Dunk No. 3: It comes seconds after dunk No. 2. Murray steals the ensuing rebound and of course, Braun is streaking wide-open down the middle of the paint. The Nuggets rookie has a tendency to be in the right place at the right time. He has a nose for the ball. He anticipates plays before they happen.
There’s this incredible feeling in an arena when everyone in the crowd sees what’s about to happen before it actually happens. It’s this anticipatory energy, this split-second of what feels like complete silence before an emotional eruption. That’s what you felt on this dunk.
Braun finished with 11 points. He’s become one of, if not the most reliable player off the Nuggets’ bench and will be penciled in for playoff minutes.
After the loss, DNVR asked Braun if he’s thinking about what it would be like to play looking real minutes in the playoffs as a rookie.
“Yeah absolutely,” Braun said. “We’re the No. 1 seed right now. We’re looking to lock that up. And that’s my goal, come in and compete at the highest level. I think that’s when I’m at my best. I’m excited for that. I’m excited for basketball that really means — these games do mean something — but the playoffs means a little more.”
“It will just be another step up in being locked in, attention to detail, and things get tighter and the games get more fun I think. And just the atmosphere, the energy, that’s something I look forward to all the time, whether I’m on the court or whether I’m not, that’s something I look forward to.”
He’s going to be someone who’s counted on to deliver in the highest-pressure games of the season.