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Monte Morris finally gets his moment

Harrison Wind Avatar
February 17, 2022

He’s just 26-years-old but is the fourth longest-tenured Nugget. He’s a former second-round pick who after a record-setting four-year career at Iowa State somehow slipped to 51st overall in the 2017 draft. He spent his rookie year in the G League — in Rio Grande Valley, Texas to be more specific — where his lone refuge was a local Mexican joint whose tacos tasted extra good after victories.

Monte Morris has always been grinding, from a two-way contract to a full-time roster spot to his current status as one of the best backup point guards in the NBA. Now, he’s shepherding a contender through a trying regular season without their starting point guard. Morris has been a part of so many franchise-defining wins but rarely plays a leading role. He’s hit plenty of layups, patented runners down the lane, and buzzer-beating 3s to end the first and third quarters. But never to win a game.

Morris finally got his moment Wednesday in Golden State.

The play was drawn up for who else but Nikola Jokic. The reigning MVP was spectacular Wednesday. For most of the Nuggets’ improbable 117-116 win over the Warriors, Jokic looked like the only Nuggets’ starter whose mind was in Golden State. South Beach? Tulum? Turks and Caicos? Who knows where the rest of Denver’s heads were at to open the Nuggets’ final game before the All-Star break.

Jokic tallied 11 points and 8 rebounds in 10 first-quarter minutes before tweaking his ankle and heading to the bench late in the period. At halftime, he had 16 points and 15 rebounds to his name, but the Nuggets still trailed by nine. When Jokic subbed out late in the third he had already tallied 26 points, 17 rebounds, and 3 assists in only 27 minutes.

It was a masterclass, although Jokic tired a bit in the fourth. He missed two free throws late in the quarter and clanged two shots from the paint that he’s usually money on. But Jokic still backed Kevon Looney under the rim and scored with 45 seconds left to bring Denver to within one.

Then, a wild sequence unfolded with the Nuggets down 113-112. Steph Curry missed a potential dagger 3 off the back iron and Morris poked a long rebound away from Andrew Wiggins that turned it into an uncontested Nuggets’ layup. On the Warriors’ next trip down the floor, Curry canned a pull-up jumper and got an and-1 foul call right in Morris’ grill to pit Golden State up 116-114. Michael Malone, who found the right lineup combinations in the second half with Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers and coached one of his best games of the season Wednesday, called timeout.

In that huddle, Jokic told Morris to stay ready if the double-team came.

“He told me in the timeout, just be shot-ready just in case,” Morris said.

It didn’t quite transpire on the stage that Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s game-winner to lift the Bulls over the Jazz in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals did, but the sequence was awfully similar: a play call for the MVP, the best player in the NBA, who’s expecting a double-team but knows he has a trusted shooter spacing the floor. In Chicago’s huddle before that famed ’97 shot, Jordan also told Kerr to be ready to shoot in case the double-team came.

It of course did. The rest is history.


Morris has never had a game-winner in the NBA, mostly due to the fact that he’s rarely been on the floor in late-game situations. Jamal Murray has been the Nuggets’ starter and closing point guard throughout Morris’ entire five-year run in Denver. Usually, the Nuggets are opting for more defensive length and size at their other guard spot in the clutch. Even this season when he’s been on the floor late in close games without Murray, Morris is usually at best the third option behind Jokic and Will Barton.

This time the spotlight found Morris.

“Big-Game Tae came through,” said Malone.

He undoubtedly deserves it. No one has been a better teammate than Morris in the Jokic Era. It’s a central reason why he outlasted so many of his peers in Denver. When the Nuggets bring a new player into the organization, one of the first texts Tim Connelly sends is to Morris whose Rolodex of fellow NBA players and contacts throughout the sport runs deep. Morris knows everyone, from current and former teammates to players he competed against in college and prospects who haven’t even made the league yet. Somehow, they all know Monte. During the pre-draft period when NBA hopefuls work out in Denver, the one Nuggets player that most of them know is always Morris. He’s the perfect liaison.

So when Facu Campazzo moved his entire family from Europe to Denver two summers ago, the first teammate Connelly put him in touch with was Morris. The two have been close ever since.

The Nuggets’ Pied Piper is the first to hype someone up, even if that teammate plays the same position. He’ll take his fellow point guards aside to hammer home teaching points at practices and during timeouts. He just wants to see everyone have success. He’s all about the team.

Morris is always helping others with his basketball wisdom or by dishing out an assist. He’s always making someone else the hero.

This time it was his turn to shine.

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