Nikola Jokić – A-
In another timeline, there’s something to criticize about Jokić’s performance. Had his first and only field goal attempt of the fourth quarter drawn iron instead of net, we might file the loss under ‘Jokić didn’t try hard enough.’ Of course, on the other side of another game-winning shot and triple-double, levying criticism feels nothing less than silly. It’s a make-or-miss league, they say. Jokić tends to make them.
Another lively crowd in Ball Arena erupted with delight at a familiar sight. They’ve grown used to wins in Ball Arena. And lately, used to some convincing ones. Should they have needed it, they were reminded that this team’s last line of defense is the most clutch player in the league. He’s done this so many times. His icy-cool reactions betray an element of expectation.
Some might have preferred another finely-tuned performance from their Nuggets. Sometimes boring is desirable across an 82-game season. But in the end, walking out of the arena, I didn’t hear anyone asking for refunds. This team is the best show in Denver right now.
Jamal Murray – C
Murray played a bizarre game. It looked like he played in a dream; from bizarre fouls to graceful one-legged three-pointers, it was all so nonchalant and full of artistic whimsy. He’s played well lately, so there’s little need to dwell, but his pace-related demons reared their heads again. He took his sweet time bringing the ball up and was content to waste the shot lock with aimless dribbling. This was all compounded by an early exit for Bones Hyland, who tweaked an ankle.
Michael Porter Jr. – C+
Porter, among many other Nuggets on Sunday, didn’t turn in his best effort defensively. He was effective from the field and played a significant role in Denver’s first-half success. Still, as he drifted away from the healthy process on either end, Malone grew antsy and swapped him out for Christian Braun in the second half. Porter returned to close the game, but in the end, it was a modest contribution from him. Like Murray, he’s playing well lately, and Denver won. Things that end well can be left well alone.
Aaron Gordon – A–
It was a big night for Mr. Nugget. He matched up with his old team and Mr. Nugget emeritus, Gary Harris. Gordon wasn’t trying to lose this game again, as he’s done already since swapping uniforms. He played phenomenal defense in the first half and scored 25 points on 9 of 13 from the field. He rebounded well, racked up five assists, and earned eleven free-throw attempts through his tenacity. There’s a catch: he missed six of those in a close game. But if more of his teammates played as he did, it likely wouldn’t have been.
KCP – B-
KCP was a little off from 3 Sunday night, but that didn’t stop him from a testicular fortitude check in crunch time. With 1:39 remaining and trailing by four, KCP pulled up from deep in transition. It was never in doubt. KCP has a lot of AG in him. He looks to be enjoying instant success in Denver.
Bruce Brown – B+
Brown paid homage to a Nuggets great with a Millsapian performance. His box score is ultimately flattering, but it still sells him short. He was one of the best players on the floor and wrought havoc while many sleepwalked through a low-leverage game. Brown once told me he knows how to turn the motor down when necessary. But I don’t believe him. I picture a player struggling with walkthroughs. Why go less than 100%? The energizer bunny gets gassed just watching this guy.
Zeke Nnaji – C+
Nnaji got off to a nice start with seven quick points, but his first stint was his best. The subsequent minutes weren’t much to write home about. In his defense, the bench had a different look without Vlatko Čančar. Both Nnaji and DeAndre Jordan played.
DeAndre Jordan – F
Jordan got diced up out there. By the time his brain and legs were on the same page, the ball was already in the bottom of the net. He was just too slow.
Christian Braun – C+
At the risk of ruining my friendship with Harrison, I concede my appreciation for Braun in the current role. He’s just outside the rotation, but he provides precisely what Denver lacks when they come out flat. It’s happening less frequently these days. Still, he’s an excellent option when that problem manifests.