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Denver Nuggets See the Suns' Best Punch in Game 3

Brendan Vogt Avatar
May 6, 2023

It’s Denver’s turn to respond after Devin Booker’s brilliant performance

Nikola Jokić – A

There are plenty of nits to pick in Game 3’s report card. A bottom line should be established before they’re opened up and examined — Denver won their minutes with Jokić on the floor. He was brilliant in nearly 42 minutes of action, dropping an efficient 30 points with 17 rebounds and 17 assists. Until Game 3, Denver’s enjoyed a flipped script in the non-Jokić minutes. That’s where they’ve separated from their opponents, but familiar problems reared their ugly heads in game three.

Jokić essentially played Deandre Ayton off the floor. Monty Williams closed with Jock Landale, which was ultimately the right decision. Jokić was destroying DA one-on-one, eating on the glass, and prepared to pick the Suns apart should they send help.

There were moments of passivity throughout the game. There were a few possessions when he passed out of a favorable matchup. At the end of the first quarter, a quarter going Denver’s way, everyone let their foot off the gas, Jokić included. Landry Shamet cleared him out of rebounding position on a Bruce Brown layup. That should never happen. But to get lost in the details of Jokić’s performances is to miss out on greatness. 30-17-17 on the road in the playoffs. It’s impossible not to take 15 for granted. We’d be celebrating this performance with a win.

Jamal Murray – B-

Jamal Murray is a package deal. The frustrating performances come with the exhilarating ones. That’s still the case for him, even in the playoffs. In game three, we saw a bit of both across four quarters. Murray’s shotmaking through three was tremendous. He dribbled a lot, and the ball stuck with him, but he was scoring. He hit his jumpers, turned the corner on some DHOs, and got to the floater or layup range. He took the same approach in the fourth quarter, but the shotmaking dried up, and the results were brutal. Murray played hero ball down the stretch, leaning on Jokić for screens with the intent of scoring rather than a good-faith attempt at running the two-man game. The shot clock expired with the ball in his hands in one possession. Some of his looks were good shots, great shots even, but he missed those too.

Here’s where evaluating Murray gets tricky — the approach can be better some nights than others. The approach matters. Still, a good or bad game from him can often come down to shotmaking. If he knocks a few more down in the fourth quarter, this is but another chapter in the legend of Playoff Murray. Perhaps that was part of the problem. Murray’s transcendent performances are welcome, though not preferred. He’s not their best player. Yet he seemed determined to dictate the outcome on his own Friday night.

There’s a big-picture concern when zooming out on his series. He might clean up his approach in the clutch. He might make a few more of those shots down the stretch next time out. There’s no way around his apparent fatigue, however. Despite a long break as the series went to Phoenix, Murray was gasping for air six minutes into game three. The heavy-minute totals for Devin Booker and Kevin Durant are well-documented. And yet, it’s Murray who looks most exhausted out there.

Michael Porter Jr. – B

There is a way to reserve Murray while forcing Booker to work. Booker is guarding Michael Porter Jr. in this series, and it’s essentially a bailout assignment so far. There’s more to tap into with Porter’s offense. Of course, Denver tried to tap into it early. Porter got the ball with a green light to make something happen on two occasions that ended in ugly turnovers — his first turnovers of the entire playoff run. Those turnovers both resulted in points. He got off to a rough start, but Porter knocked down his first open three, a sign of better things coming.

Porter shot 2 of 5 from deep in the first half and 4 of 5 in the second. He found a rhythm and once again got going in the fourth quarter. He scored nine points in his final 10:25 on the floor. He knocked down two huge threes and sent Kevin Durant to the shadow realm, with the game slipping away.

https://twitter.com/VojaMedic/status/1654762888635076612?s=20

Porter shot five times in the fourth, which is a good number. One could argue that number could be a little higher on nights when Murray doesn’t have it. Porter’s been tearing it up in late-game situations these playoffs. They passed to him this time, and he nearly played them back into the game.

Porter’s been cold for long stretches of this series and mentally took himself out of game two. He has to take better advantage of the chances that come his way. Still, it would be prudent to involve him more. He’s too talented to ignore while Murray exhausts himself.

Porter was directly responsible for some loud mistakes in the loss. The turnovers were hard to watch. He faded away on a missed floater after a crucial offensive rebound. These sequences all looked terrible. But we are overly concerned with this hollow concept of loudness. How heavily should we weigh them against all he did well?

Michael Malone praised Porter after the game, pointing out how well he rebounded. Ultimately, he recorded a double-double, defended at a high level, found his shot from 3, and postered one of the best players in league history. If you’re in the market for silver linings after a loss, I’d start here.

Aaron Gordon – C+

Durant lived at the free-throw line in game three. Some of that counts against Gordon, who has to figure out how to defend without fouling. Most of it is about some harsh whistles on the road. Durant struggled mightily from the field again, which was no accident. AG did a great job on that assignment.

AG could have done a better job on offense, however. His first field goal attempt of the game was a wild fadeaway mid-ranger. He shot 0 of 3 from deep and 0 of 5 from the field in the final quarter. Gordon was great in Denver’s monster run to start the second half. He defended well and forced the refs to call some fouls near the rim. Ultimately though, he left a lot on the table throughout the game. He shot 3 of 13 from the field.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – F

Pope scored 2 points in 34:29 on the floor. He made little to no impact defensively, either. Booker was transcendent in the win. His breathtaking performance spared virtually no one on the floor for Denver. Still, that’s Pope’s primary assignment, and at no point did he look like the answer. KCP also was on the floor for some horrid bench minutes in the fourth. The ever-reliable Pope played poorly in Phoenix.

Bruce Brown – C

Brown got off to an aggressive and quality start. The Bruce would prove a little too loose, however. By the time the dust settled, he’d shot 4 of 11 from the field and didn’t have the same impact on Booker and Durant as in the first two games. Denver got crushed with their bench on the floor.

Jeff Green – D-

Green played one of his worst games in the playoffs so far. Yes, he scored 7 points. Still, it was like a screening of his biggest skeptic’s worst fears. He grabbed just one rebound and got torched defensively. He was a -20 in less than 14 minutes of playing time.

Christian Braun – C

Braun struggled to defend without fouling in his almost ten minutes on the floor. He also looked too eager with the ball in his hands once again. Braun’s made several big-time hustle plays in this series, only to force an ill-advised look at the rim. Denver doesn’t need those risks from him.

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