Jamal Murray – B
Jamal Murray sat down at the podium after the loss and glanced at the stat sheet. “Wow,” he murmured in discontent. It was the 3-point shooting that left him exasperated. Despite an otherwise impressive night, he shot just 1 for 6 from deep as Denver’s top-scoring option. Had some of those fallen, he’d have led Denver to the win. He knew it too. Missed shots — missed 3s, free throws (Denver missed sixteen in a two-point loss), a missed chance at the buzzer — doomed the Nuggets and their winning streak.
You could hear the frustration in Murray’s voice. They did so much right in the second half without two max players. They put themselves in a great position to win. But they fell just short as Murray missed on the final possession. There’s a theme to this loss: it was tantalizingly close to what we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s a loss all the same in the official books.
Aaron Gordon – D
There’s one big exception to the meeting of expectations. Gordon, as steady as any non-MVP on the roster, turned in a woeful performance. He shot 4 of 15 from the field and 6 of 13 from the free-throw line. Gordon fell off the rhythm he’s been riding for most of the season. It was all a beat or two off. And he could have rescued it at the line, but he was the biggest culprit in the team’s worst offense.
KCP – B-
KCP shot confidently but not effectively enough. He, too, might be picturing the quality shots left on the table in such a close loss. This is where a short memory aids a pro hooper.
Bruce Brown – B+
Brown did his thing again. He attacks the rim like he’s been shot out of a cannon, and no one wants the smok—alright, that’s too easy. And they lost. Still, Brown played well.
Zeke Nnaji – B+
Nnaji’s making a positive impact on the rotation by what he allows that unit to do defensively. It’s a unit that can and does switch everything. On Sunday night, however, he did more than change the dynamic. He played one of his best games all season. He defended well, shot the three well, and rebounded his way to his first career double-double. It’s a shame it came in a loss.
Christian Braun – A-
Braun’s done this before — applied pressure through his doggedness. This time though, Braun sprinkled in some offensive production. He scored 10 points, grabbed two offensive rebounds, and dished out three assists. We might have spent some time in the winner’s lounge talking about his clutch three-point shot in another world. Alas, in this world, it’s less a feather in his cap than a moment to build on. His confidence is trending up either way.
Jeff Green – B–
Green played quite well in his opening stint. He was one of the first Nuggets to inject some pace into the game, applying his famous athleticism and beating younger players down the court. However, he left plenty to be desired defensively and failed to secure a single rebound. Classic.
Bones Hyland – F
Hyland missed all four shots he took and took roughly just as many ill-advised gambles on defense. He was all over the place. Anywhere and everywhere but where his teammates needed him to be.
Vlatko Čančar – F
We’d all prefer to heap praise on the Slovenian Sensation, but we can’t this time. Vlatko logged 9:55 on the floor, yet the rest of his box score remains blank. That’s staggeringly unfortunate.
Denver Nuggets – B+
The Nuggets competed and cleaned up their defense in the fourth quarter. They weathered an early storm and hung onto a fraying rope as it twisted and gnawed at their hands. They followed the blueprint to a victory, with the glaring exception of free throw shooting.
That’s a tough pill to swallow. And how is it digested? Do the Nuggets dwell on what could have, should have been, or do they regroup and take stock of what got them so close to ten straight wins? Win streaks have fallen apart in far more spectacular fashion. They know the way forward.