“As corny as that sounds, winning is a great pain reliever.”
– Michael Malone
Nikola Jokić – A
Jokić returned to action after a right wrist sprain proved problematic. Jokić described the injury as “different” after the game, seemingly fine one day and sore the next. If it was sore in Miami, it was hard to tell. Jokić dropped 9 points and 7 rebounds on 100% from the floor in his first nine minutes of action. He took it to another level in the second quarter, where he looked unstoppable, and the Nuggets put together their best five-minute stretch of the season.
Outside of one three, Jokić did all of his damage inside. He bullied smaller defenders, cut to the rim at his unorthodox pace, and sealed off defenders with his gargantuan frame as his teammates figured out how to get him the ball. Miami sold out to prevent the entry passes to begin with, but Jokić made even that difficult. Once he caught it, the hard part was over. He scored with ease, eventually forcing Miami to deploy Bam Adebayo elsewhere.
Much was made of this matchup. Fans and even media in Miami circled their calendars and puffed their chests. In the end, few even arrived at the arena, and Jokić barely noticed those who did. He fielded a question about the environment after the game.
“I played in Serbia, brother,” Jokić said dismissively. “I wish you guys could feel that.”
Aaron Gordon – B+
Gordon played in uncharacteristically low gear on defense Monday night but made up for it with a strong performance on the other end. He finished with 20 points on 11 shots, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists — the third-highest assist total on the team and the perfect excuse to call him a tertiary playmaker again. What a great word. What a fun player.
We were treated to some vintage high-flying as well. As promised, Gordon looks like a healthier bouncer player so far. Maybe it was just the hair on Monday night. The Afro is back for those who track.
Will Barton – B-
Barton looked like he was playing underwater Monday night. He recorded three lazy turnovers, lost his assignment more than once on defense, and even appeared surprised at times when the ball found him. The above reads like a description of a bad game, but Barton knocked down the big shots that came his way. Of the seven shots he took, six came from deep, and four found the bottom of the net. He contributed five rebounds and four assists as well.
Jeff Green – B-
Green fits in nicely with the starting lineup. He’s a cog in a machine, contributing more via his understanding of where to be and when more than any particular skill. He also looks huge alongside Gordon and Jokić. The Nuggets held size advantages left and right over a shorthanded Heat team.
Monte Morris – B+
Morris was quietly good. He found success with his beloved 15-footer pull-up and went Full Monte, recording six assists to his zero turnovers.
Bones Hyland – A
Bones set a new career-high with 19 points on 5 of 8 shooting from deep. Three of those five makes were from way downtown — the logo range we were promised. He stepped into them all confidently, and for the most part, they were all quality shots. Miami deployed a zone defense, for which Bones had a straightforward counter:
“Shoot them out the zone.”
Austin Rivers – C+
Rivers is racking up C+’s, and that’s all he needs to do off the bench. The formula is pretty straightforward as well. Find some way to score 7-8 points and play good defense. He did just that in Miami.
Zeke Nnaji – C-
Nnaji missed multiple opportunities to make plays and looked, at times, like he didn’t know exactly where to be on the floor. It was a sort of nervous performance from him. Still, I’m noticing a trend of the bench — Facundo Campazzo in particular — looking more competent with Nnaji in the game.
Facundo Campazzo – B+
Campazzo scored ten points on seven shots, made two of three shots from deep, and recorded five assists. He was also a menace on defense, gluing himself to defenders and selling the call when fighting through picks. Don’t look now, but the shots are falling for the fall guy. Campazzo is shooting 37.5% from deep and playing well since returning to the rotation. You better believe I’ve noticed.