Jamal Murray – A-

As Damian Lillard tapped his wrist to signify what time it was, fans of the Blazers and Nuggets checked the game clock to see how much time was left. There were nine seconds—enough time for Denver to respond. Enough time for Murray to do away with all his struggles Thursday night and put a W in the books. You know how this one ended. Murray buried a three from the left corner to give Denver a lead with .9 seconds remaining. His 12, 13th, and 14th points of a riveting fourth-quarter duel with Lillard.

The game saw 15 lead changes and two ties in the final 6:33, and Murray was heavily involved. He wasn’t just scoring. He also stonewalled old friend Jerami Grant in the mid-post and forced another miss from mid-range. And, of course, it was Grant who he shook loose for the eventual game-winner.

Murray’s no bastion of consistency. He’s yet to make an All-Star game or play at an All-NBA level for a sustained period outside the bubble. He may not be a can’t-miss talent, but he’s a can’t-miss competitor. Time and time again, we’ve seen the high-leverage situations inspire his very best basketball. He’s built for clutch time. He thrives off the pressure.

Nikola Jokić – A-

Jokić turned it over five times in his first stint through a combination of good Portland defense, Denver’s miscommunication, and drops. Eventually, he’d had enough of that approach and began bullying the interior defense. Portland didn’t sell out to stop Jokić, and he committed to an aggressive approach. It turns out Drew Eubanks can’t guard him. He did knock down a three and hit a ridiculously saucy mid-range, but he spent most of his night torturing the bigs.

It wasn’t a perfect night for Jokić. His sloppy start had Denver playing catch-up early, and the starter minutes didn’t go their way. In the end, a competent bench and a heroic Murray had his back.

Aaron Gordon – B

It wasn’t that long ago Portland desired Orlando’s Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline. It wasn’t that long ago Denver tabbed Jerami Grant as the right forward to pair with Nikola Jokić long-term. They’re each off to terrific starts for the other team in 2022, and they went toe-to-toe in the first half. The first quarter went to Grant, the second to AG, and the game to Denver. Gordon scored only two points in the fourth quarter, but they were essential to the win. A rare miss inside from Jokić bounced off the rim, and a tip-in from AG gave Denver a one-point lead with 18.6 remaining. Gordon had the last laugh in the end.

Bruce Brown – C

Brown had the unenviable task of guarding Dame and benefitted from shot luck in the first half. Lillard missed some open looks and smoked a layup before he got going. Brown got swallowed up on screens, and Denver didn’t have much up their sleeves for the pick-and-roll coverage. Thankfully, Lillard left some easy ones on the board before halftime.

Lillard was less merciful in the second, though Brown wasn’t the sole recipient of that hurt. His size also came into play as the low man—simply unable to contest looks a taller player might. He did find some success at the rim on offense, scoring 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C

Sometimes, all it takes is one play. KCP didn’t play well for most of the game, but he broke up Portland’s last pass and last gasp of hope after Murray’s 3. He also drilled a clutch 3 in his final stint—redemption in the final moments for Kenny Pope.

Vlatko Čančar – D

After working his way from the end of the bench to the first guy off it, Vlatko is sliding backward again. The bench needed a different look, and Vlatko provided it—he earned an extended opportunity. But that opportunity ballooned well past an appropriate size. He’s not the sixth man, and Malone called a quick audible after roughly six minutes of play for the Slovenian.

Bones Hyland – A-

The sophomore-year scouting report is in for Bones. He’s an upgraded shooter and a guy you must pick up early. He buried one deep three after Portland missed the memo and later danced past an overcompensation. Bones isn’t Steph Curry, but the deep 3s are in his arsenal and open up so much room for activities. What a treat.

The defense remains a work in progress, but Bones’ big spark off the bench was instrumental in a much-needed win.

Jeff Green – C+

Green came up clutch with some tough rebounds. He grabbed two on each end, which we call the ‘Jeff green double-double’ here in Denver. It’s as close as he gets, and all jokes aside, he pulled down some big ones. He also got saucy with the playmaking, dishing out three assists, including a pocket pass to Murray I didn’t know he could make.

DeAndre Jordan – B

The first half of DAJ’s stint was an unmitigated disaster. He looked glued to the ground as a gaggle of smaller, younger players fought for rebounds around him. But then something beautiful happened. Jordan locked in. He grabbed six boards and blocked three shots as the bench rolled.

Christian Braun – B+

Welcome back to the rotation, Christian. You’ve been sorely missed. Denver’s most disciplined defender and eager try-hard turned in twenty stellar minutes. He confidently attacked the rim, pulled down three offensive rebounds, played stifling defense, and kept pushing even when the desired result looked in jeopardy.

The Nuggets are 7-0 when Braun logs 16+ minutes. What does that statistic truly reflect, if anything? There’s only one way to find out.

Author

Brendan moved to Colorado at the start of the 2017-18 NBA season with dreams of covering the Denver Nuggets with a full time media credential. After obtaining that credential during a brief tenure with the Denver Stiffs, he made the move to DNVR at the start of the rebrand. You can read his work on DNVR Nuggets, hear him on the DNVR Nuggets podcast, and follow his tweets @DNVR_Nuggets. Follow Brendan on Twitter - @BrendanVogt

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