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The Denver Nuggets Send a Message to the Minnesota Timberwolves

Brendan Vogt Avatar
April 11, 2024

Nikola Jokić – A+

If you could handpick one defender to guard Nikola Jokić, Rudy Gobert has to be on the shortlist. I’d argue he should top it. And if you could handpick one team to defend Jokić and company in an intense game, the Wolves would be everyone’s answer. But Jokić is the best player in the world, and the Denver Nuggets are the reigning champions. There are no good answers to the problems they present.

Nikola Jokić led all scorers with 41 points on 16/20 shooting. He retook control of the game in the third quarter and slammed the door shut with an all-universe second half. Jokić scored 24 points, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out four assists in his final 19 minutes of action. We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill dominance in the doldrums of the NBA season. That was the biggest game of the campaign thus far, and the NBA’s best defense watched helplessly as Jokić drove separation between them. He destroyed the Wolves from the middle of the floor, scoring in the paint, at the top of the key, and straight away from three.

Regarding winning time, Jokić and the Nuggets scored on 15 straight possessions in the fourth quarter. They found that next level. It’s the level no one else in this league can reach.

The term dominance is rarely defined yet often used when describing elite players in basketball, particularly big men. We can probably thank Shaquille O’Neal for that. It’s closely associated with our American basketball heroes’ physical gifts and ego-first approach. None of those descriptors apply to Jokić, who is more often portrayed as efficient or brilliant. Great, beyond a shadow of a doubt, yet something different from a faraway land. But if dominance is what you’re after, surely you noticed it as he took it right at the future and former DPOY. Indeed, you saw the breathtaking combination of strength and coordination—the futility of standing in his path. Jokić isn’t just efficient. He’s fearless. He’s relentless. And he’s one of the very best scorers in basketball. Let last night serve as another reminder for those who need it.

Jamal Murray – A-

Murray was the second-leading scorer in the game at halftime, which was impressive against a defense well-suited to making his life difficult. Unfortunately, he also turned the ball over three times. The Wolves forced nine total turnovers in the first half alone, but Murray and the Nuggets tightened it up. Murray posted five assists to one turnover in the second half, four of which occurred in the fourth quarter. Unsurprisingly, he shined in winning time. He also played a significant role in keeping Denver attached during an outburst from Anthony Edwards. Edwards scored 15 points in the third, taking and making some audacious shots. Murray tends to interpret such runs as challenges and responds with matching audacity. He finished with 20 points, four rebounds, and six assists in fewer than 30 minutes.

Micahel Porter Jr. – B

Some nights, Porter looks a second or two behind the action. His reactions are a bit slow. His rotations are more than a bit slow. He almost seems surprised when the ball comes his way. This was one of those nights for the better part of three quarters. But Porter got his head in the game just in time. His defense improved significantly in the fourth, as did his focus. He grabbed a big offensive rebound before putting it back in the non-Jokić minutes. He even got involved down the stretch, hitting a silly motion jumper while sprinting to his right. He made winning plays while Denver hit their stride. When the dust settled, it became clear he’d contributed to the win. Porter finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.

Aaron Gordon – B-

There’s a spotlight on AG in this matchup. He’s a non-shooter, and the Wolves treat him as such—perhaps more than any other team in the league. He’s got to find ways to contribute as a non-scorer, which he did in the latest win via the playmaking route. Gordon finished with a season-high nine assists. More space to shoot means more space to read the floor.

Gordon looked a lot like Draymond Green on the perimeter at one point. Rudy Gobert dared him to shoot, and Gordon simply looked to Murray, who darted over for the ball. Gordon dropped it off and set a bit of a moving screen. Murray drained the three. Another assist occurred when Gordon brought the ball up the floor, and Jokić worked early to seal off Naz Reid. AG dropped in a mortar pass. He also recorded three more assists to MPJ, his new favorite target. The ‘Pay it Forward’ connection strikes again.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C

Pope allowed Edwards to get hot at the start of the third quarter. He struggled on the other end, too. But I’ll stop there before the criticism goes overboard. For most of the night, Denver defended at a high level, and Pope certainly had a hand in that. Still, it was ultimately a below-average output from him.

Reggie Jackson – D+

Jackson wasn’t very good, but the headline is that Denver survived his 20 minutes in an important game.

Christian Braun – A

Braun defended at an elite level and rebounded well, too. But goodness, am I burying the lede. He turned in the best highlights of his young career.

Braun dunked three times in roughly one minute during the fourth quarter. He cut to the rim and threw it down with Gobert hot on his trail. Then he challenged him directly and turned in an all-time in-game dunk from a Nugget. And he wasn’t done. Braun finished a fastbreak alley-oop from MPJ seconds later. Braun let out a primal scream as Ball Arena rose to their feet. It was the closest we’ve seen to his infamous scream during the national championship game with Kansas. That’s the version of CB that can win Denver a game or two in the playoffs.

Peyton Watson – A

Watson is an exceptional defender and a budding human highlight reel. He posted six blocks against the Wolves, covering an unsettling amount of ground on the defensive end. Watching a predator strike triggers the same kind of uneasiness. Your brain isn’t quite sure how to process what it’s seeing. He was everywhere on the defensive end, bringing a similar energy and impact to Braun. Malone even closed with Braun and Watson over Pope and Gordon, respectively. The Booth Boys split DPOG honors.


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