“It takes 16 wins to win a championship, and we’ve got five more to go, and the Lakers are in our way.” – Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray – A+

Jamal Murray is a generational competitor. He’s a talented basketball player, always has been, but he turns into something else entirely with his back against the wall. The exact circumstances that trigger panic in many talented players seem to fuel Murray’s greatness. He put on a legendary performance in Game Three.

Murray dropped 30 points in the first half of a must-win game for the Lakers. Nikola Jokić got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, and the half-court operation sputtered. They needed a spark. Murray gave them fire. Thirteen of his 20 shots in the first half found the bottom of the net. He shot 4 of 8 from deep in that stretch. He dragged Denver to an early lead, a crucial dynamic as the Lakers spent virtually the entire game fighting from behind.

Murray slowed down after halftime, clearly exhausted from the effort. One of the biggest lessons in Murray’s career kicked in from there. He’s spent years learning to stay involved and make all-star-level plays even when his shots aren’t falling. He recorded five assists in the second half. The Nuggets settled into their brand of basketball.

We’re hard on Murray on our show. I’m tough on him in these grades. It’s challenging to be the second-best player sometimes. Credit goes to Jokić, and the blame goes to Murray. He plays a great game, we change our tune, and you’re all familiar with this cycle. We go round and round before the playoffs when Murray ends the debate. It’s time once again to hand him his flowers. The Nuggets needed his excellence last night. He was the best player on the floor for the best win in team history.

Nikola Jokić – B+

Jokić looked mortal for roughly three quarters. He shot 2 of 8 in the first half. While the Lakers deserve credit for good defense, Jokić was missing shots he’s hit for his entire playoff career. He didn’t have it. But greatness can only be contained, not stopped. Jokić roared to life in the fourth, dropping 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 4 of 7 from the line. Fittingly, Rui Hachimura couldn’t stop him.

There was a poetic theme to Jokić’s night. The Nuggets survived his early struggles thanks to Murray. Then the team found their groove in the second half. A fourth personal foul sent Jokić to the bench in the third quarter. If the Lakers were to win, that’s when they needed to do it. Denver never backed down.

We’ve watched this team grow into a battle-tested and multi-faceted winning machine. They’ve learned new ways to get it done with each iteration, and this group just secured the best win in Nuggets history during an off-night from their best player. Jokić is essential to the title chances, but Denver is in a position to win one for more reasons than his greatness.

“I never doubt my team,” Jokić said after the game. “We have the players who can step up in the right moment.”

Michael Porter Jr. – B+

So much is coming full circle. In Game Three, Porter’s growth into a well-rounded and dependable player was central to the win. He got off to a slow start from the field. He’d eventually shoot 4 of 10 from deep, but it didn’t happen immediately. He, too, had to rely on the lessons he’s spent his young career learning. Every game is a new challenge for Porter. He doesn’t know to what extent he’ll be involved or how much he’ll play. He’s got to figure out where to apply his talent on the fly, and it’s why being a third-best player is a complicated job. Porter shifted his attention to rebounding—he led all Nuggets with 10—and, yes, even playmaking. Porter finished with six assists, a career-high.

The front office raves about Porter’s work ethic. Some guys are hard workers. Some guys are great workers. And then there are the superstars. Regarding putting in the work, Porter is in the latter category. When you’re as talented as MPJ and you’re committed to winning, you won’t fail.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B+

In yet another stroke of poetry from the basketball Gods, KCP showed out against his old team. The most important role player from the 2020 series is proving important again. Just in the other uniform this time.

Pope went off in the third quarter, helping keep Denver’s head above water with no Jokić on the floor. He finished with 17 points on 4 of 7 shooting from deep. He scored 12 of those points in the third.

Aaron Gordon – C

Gordon’s unable to break through in this series. He’s leaving some rebounds on the table, he can’t score, and the defense is unbothered by his open jumpers. It’s a tough matchup, but as he probed for ways to get involved, he found something with the ball in his hands. AG’s an underrated passer, and he tapped back into that aspect of his game. Still, the Lakers ultimately played Gordon off the floor. Jeff Green played the entire fourth quarter.

Jeff Green – A

The much-maligned eighth man delivers in the biggest game of the season. Green grabbed four rebounds, closed in AG’s stead, and hit the big shot from the corner.

He didn’t just knock down the shot. He altered the spacing in Denver’s favor. Malone’s move paid off.

Bruce Brown – A

The Bruce is loose in LA. Brown talked, walked the walk, then circled back to talk some more. He dropped 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out five assists. He did not turn the ball over once. He did, however, bust out the Lakers’ 3-point celebration on their home floor.

Brown is playing spectacular basketball in the playoffs. He’s earning every penny of that incoming contract.


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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