The Nuggets whiffed on a golden opportunity in the valley. Now, they must hold serve as the series returns to the Mile High City.

Nikola Jokić – A+

Jokić and Booker are in a duel for the ages. While there’s no shortage of additional storylines or key players in the series, the two best players in the postseason are taking centerstage. Jokić dropped a career-high 53 points on 20 of 30 from the field. He scored through contact, got himself to the free-throw line, and fried anyone guarding him straight up. He and Booker owned the third quarter, dropping 18 and 17 points, respectively, each refusing to give an inch with the game in the balance. It was beautiful basketball; it should be all we discussed. But Jokić is featured in other headlines this morning.

Mat Ishbia refused to hand the ball over to a player in the middle of playoff action, which led to a theatrical sequence. Jokić cares not for the ruling class — or perhaps he didn’t know who he was. It’s probably the second one. Still, a little shove drew a wild reaction from both Ishbia and some in the national media. Will Jokić be suspended? Likely not. Unless the league wants to cut the legs from under a spectacular series so far.

Booker is indeed having an out-of-body experience at the moment. He’s in a zone few scorers have ever tapped into. It may seem like the difference in the series, and it’s a significant factor, but Denver survived the onslaught with Jokić on the floor. Their star shined bright on the biggest stage, too. Phoenix is seemingly content to let Jokić beat them. And he is. He needs more help from fellow starters, which we’ll discuss, but arguably the most significant swing factor is the bench minutes. Denver’s 6-8 thrived in Denver. They got crunched in Phoenix. Role players play better at home. That trend has to continue in game five.

Jamal Murray – C+

On a night when Jokić could’ve scored 60, Murray took 15 shots in the first half. It wasn’t a disaster. He scored 13 points, recorded five assists, and didn’t turn the ball over. The starters won their minutes in the first half too. It is, however, an extension of the problem from game three. It’s almost as if he prefers the more arduous route to success sometimes. Forcing high-degree of difficulty shots alongside a player capable of generating many quality looks. This can easily be overstated. Murray finished the night with an efficient scoring performance and dished out seven assists.

Murray produced, but the approach remains suboptimal. He exhausts himself with labored dribbling and long possessions. He works slowly, lets the Suns pick up early, and eats up time. Again, this is easily overstated. The Nuggets’ offense hummed Sunday night. The defense was the bigger problem. Still, an exhausted Murray was also a big part of the problem defensively.

The media requested to speak with Murray after the loss, and he no-showed, according to DNVR’s Harrison Wind. This topic is rife with clichés and predictable anger from folk in my position. I don’t want to lean into the tropes. However, we quickly praised him for volunteering to speak after game two. We should at least acknowledge his failure to do so here.

Michael Porter Jr. – C-

It was a tale of two halves for Michael Porter Jr. He opened 1 of 4 from three-point range, but scored 8 points on 50% from the field, grabbed nine rebounds, and dished out three assists to no turnovers in his first 20 minutes on the floor. His defense was solid again, as well. He looked locked in before halftime.

It fell off a cliff in the second half. He stopped rebounding, slipped defensively, and shot 1 of 7. After generating a stop late in the game, he jacked up an extremely ill-advised 3 in transition. He shot 0 of 4 from the field in the fourth quarter. There’s plenty to be said about involving Porter more in the offense, and I’ve said it. It’s hard to stay engaged when your involvement is so spotty.

Nonetheless, that’s his role. He has to knock these shots down. He has to be better than he was down the stretch. Denver’s paid him to do just that.

Aaron Gordon – C+

Denver needs a little more from Gordon on the glass. Between him and Jeff Green, the backup front court has to do a better job defending and controlling the boards with Jokić off the floor. AG’s relatively low on this morning’s totem pole of blame. Still, he had his lowlights.

Gordon’s also struggled a bit with Durant’s length around the rim. He’s conceivably strong and athletic enough to dominate from the dunker spot, but it hasn’t been the easy living we hoped for.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C

Pope shot 5 of 7 from the field, thanks to some success at the rim. He did go 0 of 2 from three again, however. And both of those numbers are discouraging. Pope also needs to step it up on defense. He isn’t phasing Booker, and Durant’s not seeing him. He isn’t exhausting Booker, either. While Murray works slowly up the court and through the press, Booker glides into his preferred spots. Some of that is a pacing issue of Murray’s, but it also feels like Pope and Denver could do more to make Booker’s life harder.

Bruce Brown – C

Denver isn’t generating many stops, and Brown’s getting less opportunity to attack the rim. He’s also making a mess of his point guard duties. Brown’s utter refusal to pass to Porter Jr. cost him as he forced a hideous turnover toward Jeff Green. Brown’s had an excellent run up until games three and four. They need him to return to form as the series returns to Denver.

Jeff Green – F

Denver’s getting crushed in the Green minutes. He isn’t hanging in this series. He’s struggling to defend and can’t rebound. Malone’s fond of the 8-man rotation, and it’s worked for much of the playoffs. Still, the Green minutes look decreasingly tenable in this matchup.

Christian Braun – C-

Braun was on the wrong end of some tough buckets from KD. He played good defense at times, but it just didn’t matter. He grabbed two rebounds and scored a point in 8:12. There’s still a strong case for him playing more. Denver needs wings on the floor.


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