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Denver Nuggets Steal One From Toronto Raptors

Brendan Vogt Avatar
March 7, 2023

Nikola Jokić – C+

In a low-leverage game with the one seed essentially locked up, Jokić barely woke up for the Raptors Monday night. Jakob Poeltl looked like prime Tim Duncan for stretches scoring easily around the rim. But even in cruise control, Joker got the last laugh, just missing out on another triple-double in the win.

The Raptors opted to put OG Anunoby on Jokić and Poeltl on Aaron Gordon instead — a look Denver is bound to see in the postseason. Jokić only shot eight times, which will likely change in the postseason. Still, he’s taking a markedly different approach from last year, opting to trust the five-man offense’s potency over rampaging through double teams. After the win, Michael Malone said Jokić is too good in this offense to be slowed by the adjustment. The ball will find him with a scoring opportunity throughout the game, and he won’t miss it.

Still, one can skip this game when building a case for a third straight MVP.

Jamal Murray – A

Murray was acutely aware of his chances to break the team record for three-pointers made. It was in the back of his mind with Will Barton, the current record holder, in the house. He stopped short of admitting he was gunning for it after the game, but he did get ten threes up anyway. He knocked down five of them. Murray had that look in his eye and bounce in his step Monday night. He looked like he could go for 30-plus, but that’s a rarity in this offense lately. It’s typically such a balanced effort. Alas, the record will have to wait. He’s two threes away. And rest assured, he knows it.

Michael Porter Jr. – A

Porter was locked in defensively, sprinting up and down the floor, and dialed in from deep. Toronto’s well-documented length might have given him trouble in the past, but he barely saw the defense this time. Late in the fourth quarter, Porter was on an island with Siakam. This is typically when an opposing star’s eyes grow wide, but as he danced with the ball and time ran off the clock, it became clear he wasn’t looking at an easy bucket. He got off the ball. While the playoffs will bring new challenges, Porter’s growth from the obvious target on defense to a reliable presence is remarkable.

His sense of valuable real estate is also stronger than ever. Porter’s relocating well and better understands where to be in this offense. We see less of him bumping into teammates and more timely slips into open spaces. Like Klay Thompson in Golden State, you know you shouldn’t leave him open, but that’s easier said than done with so much attention on Jokić and Murray. There’s no reason to let the defense off the hook by standing around.

Aaron Gordon – A

Did someone mention timely movement into open space? Gordon is living off of punishing the defense’s wayward attention and feasting at the rim. With Poeltl guarding him, Gordon didn’t just hang out in the corners and wait for a chance to shoot. He bolted to the rim if Poeltl rotated over to meet a rolling Jokić or committed to late help. He knows as well as anyone that Jokić always sees you. Six of his seven made field goals came at point-blank range.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C

KCP couldn’t buy a bucket Monday night. He missed a handful of the shots that we’re accustomed to him draining, contributing to Denver’s inability to take the lead for three quarters.

Bruce Brown – D+

The Bruce was a little too loose. Malone staggered KCP, not Murray, with the bench, and Brown suffered. He took on a substantial responsibility offensively and couldn’t deliver. His 2 of 13 shooting was, well, suboptimal.

Reggie Jackson – B+

So little of what Jackson did inspired confidence, but a lot of it worked. Denver survived the bench minutes thanks to his 13 points and five assists. He shot 3 of 4 from deep and admitted after the game it’s a relief to see them fall. He also stole the show at the podium, waxing poetic on the locker room culture in Denver.

Jeff Green – C+

The biggest knock on Green not too long ago was the jarring lack of effort. That’s not been a problem in his latest performances.

Thomas Bryant – C

Bryant plays like he needs clarification on what’s expected of him. The minutes are so full of confusion and hectic energy. That second unit badly needs direction. It’s the most significant criticism one could levy against the staff this season.

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