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The Denver Nuggets Fight Back in Game Three

Brendan Vogt Avatar
May 11, 2024

Nikola Jokić – A

Much time has passed since Jokić and the Nuggets laid an egg in Game Two. In the days between battles, Jokić was recognized as the league’s MVP for the third time, something only nine players in the history of the NBA have accomplished. It served as a powerful reminder to any fans or even teammates who needed it — the Denver Nuggets employ the best player in the world. As long as he’s on the floor, they have a chance.

In Game One, Jokić looked unsure of himself in the floater zone, miscalculating his last-second decisions to shoot or pass. In Game Three, however, Jokić looked more comfortable in similar positions. He finished with nine assists, routinely feeding cutters or lurkers behind the defense. Another critical point is that many of these assists occurred without Gobert on the floor, and that’s praise for Denver. The Nuggets flustered the Wolves for the first time in the series. The challengers looked like a different team when faced with foul trouble, a subsequently jumbled rotation, and having to play from behind.

Thanks to a tenacious defensive effort, the Nuggets got the start they wanted. It was the best they’ve looked on that end all postseason long, including Jokić. His effort was dreadful in the first two games but tremendous in the win. He finished with three steals and three blocks. The three-time MVP was the best player on the floor, and the Nuggets have a chance to turn the tables on Sunday.

Jamal Murray – A

Murray faced some mild and deserved criticism for his poor play and worse attitude in Game Two. That’s part of the gig, and so is responding with an improved effort. Murray delivered a signature, gutsy performance in Game Three. Injuries, pressure, and boos from a ravenous crowd on the road — call it the perfect storm for 27. Even if you missed this game, you could close your eyes and picture what it looked like. Nuggets fans have seen it more than once before.

Murray hit an array of dazzling contested shots. But there was more to it than just some shot luck. He looked explosive after three days off, getting into the paint and finishing at the rim in a way we hadn’t seen yet in this series. There was also a monumental shift in how the game was officiated. That’s not to take away from the thorough beatdown the Nuggets handed out, especially considering the tight whistle hurt Denver, too. Still, it’s an integral part of the story — particularly for Murray. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaden McDaniels couldn’t hound Murray in quite the same way as Game 2. That helped him to find a rhythm.

Murray’s attitude shift was also significant. The weightiest criticisms from the last game were about his body language, sportsmanship, and leadership. Not that he hurt our feelings in the press. No player in that locker room is above the process or respecting the game. And more importantly, the Nuggets need Murray to be locked in. He channeled his competitive fire and rage into a necessary response on the road. The Wolves and their fans were on the wrong end of it this time.

Michael Porter Jr. – A

Porter took advantage of the tight whistle and attacked the paint in the first half. He drew fouls, knocked down free throws, and even finished a contested layup around Rudy Gobert. A younger Porter would not have made that specific impact against that defense. But it’s 2024, and Porter, feeling healthier than ever as a professional, is on the other side of a championship. His game is maturing, and it still features an all-universe jump shot. Porter knocked down four of his five three-point attempts in the win. We’re eight games into the postseason now, and MPJ is shooting 48% from 3 on 7.5 attempts per game. That’s absurd. He finished Game Three with 21 points on only ten shots.

Aaron Gordon – B+

Did someone say three-point shooting? Aaron Gordon, come on down. Mr. Nugget knocked down three consecutive 3s to fend off the Wolves in the second half. Unfortunately, Gordon looks utterly exhausted. His latest performance featured several instances when he couldn’t corral a rebound or rise and dunk like we expect him to. Denver is also in a battle with wear and tear after the title. Murray’s calf strain is well-documented, while AG and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope look out of gas.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B+

Pope is running on fumes, but he got the job done in game three. He did a much better job defensively, particularly guarding Anthony Edwards. He also worked hard to contribute despite this three-point shot not falling. Pope went to the line six times and knocked down all of them. He also grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. Denver can live with his lack of threes. They need their 3-and-D extraordinaire to at least bring the defense to the table, and he did in the win.

Justin Holiday – B+

Holiday knocked down two more 3s off the bench. He’s draining them in the second round, and his minutes are going well for Denver, even if they’re coming at the expense of Peyton Watson’s playing time. This is vintage Michael Malone.

Christian Braun – B

Braun’s playing time shot up in game three. He’s been a good option against Anthony Edwards, which was the case again in the win. He also brought the ball up the floor a few times. Denver is now sharing that responsibility amongst multiple players to get Murray some air. Braun was a non-factor against the Los Angeles Lakers in Round One. He’s got a golden opportunity against the Wolves.

Reggie Jackson – B+

The Nuggets only needed about eight minutes out of Reggie Jackson. And guess what? He was really good in those eight minutes.

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