Unrivaled in their chemistry, Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray are stealing the show
Nikola Jokić – A+
Let’s start with the history books. Jokić became the first player to post at least 30-20-10 in the NBA Finals. It’s only the fifth time anyone’s achieved that stat line during the postseason. Three of those belong to Jokić. Two are from this postseason alone. He’s on pace to lead all players in the postseason in points, rebounds and assists. That’s never been done before. But let’s get our heads out of our spreadsheets, shall we? The eye test revealed a historic performance as well. Greatness personified. Jokić is playing at a level only a handful of human beings have even dreamt of.
For all the talk of “turning” Jokić into a scorer or a passer, the conversation overlooks an essential element of his success — his rebounding. Jokić is among, if not the best, rebounders in the league. It’s a significant factor in the defensive metrics reflecting a positive impact. He grabbed an astounding 18 defensive rebounds in Game Three. His second jump is a devastating tool and one of his elite athletic traits. He beats leapers to the ball with a minimal load-up and exceptional hands. Once he’s got it, he’s got all he needs to ignite a fast break.
The herculean workload didn’t slow him down on defense. Jokić turned in one of his better performances as a rim protector and left with two blocks. It’s the NBA Finals, and we’re still waiting for that trap card of exposing Jokić on defense. He’s far from a liability, and even when he concedes, you still have to outscore him. Good luck with that. The NBA universe is catching up to what we’ve known for years. Jokić is the best player alive. Still, even that near-universal praise is a few years behind the truth. He is one of the best players in history. And he’s just getting started.
Jamal Murray – A+
Jamal Murray extricated himself from the shackles of doubt with this postseason run. He’s changed his reputation forever with a legendary run alongside 15. He should be known first and foremost as a winning player. As one half of the NBA’s best duo. He, too, posted a 30-point triple-double in Game Three. It’s the first time in NBA history that two teammates posted that line in the same game. These two just did it on the road in the Finals.
A rotation adjustment in Game Two allowed Jimmy Butler to spend more time guarding Jamal Murray. Murray stumbled on the obstacle, but we’ve seen that movie before. It ends with Murray in triumph. He struck a rare balance between patient and decisive in Game Three. He probed expertly, stretching the defense and waiting for the optimal time to strike. He didn’t hesitate when he identified it. And, of course, he had some magic up his sleeve for when his team needed it.
The Denver Nuggets are just two wins from history. This would not be the case without Jamal Murray’s production in the postseason. Statistically speaking, Murray is the biggest playoff riser in NBA history. No player sees a more significant jump in their points per game from the regular to the postseason. Nikola Jokić is second on that list. Go figure.
Aaron Gordon – B+
AG played a complementary game alongside his stars. He rebounded well and dipped into his tertiary playmaking bag with five assists to zero turnovers. He picked his spots well, too, sealing off smaller defenders and attacking the rim with tenacity. Only one of his attempts came from outside the paint; even that turnaround jumper was close.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C-
Pope is still searching for his offense out there. He’s not shooting well. But his focus returned in Game Three. He spent less time on the ground and in a shouting match with the referees. He spent more time playing defense. It was a step in the right direction for the typically trustworthy veteran.
Michael Porter Jr. – D
Porter still can’t buy a shot. That continued to infect his effort in the first half — he struggled on defense and looked shell-shocked at times on the other end. We can call it six straight quarters of very poor basketball from MPJ. He found a little life in the third quarter, returning to what worked well for him in Game One. It wasn’t enough to salvage another rough outing, and he only logged 21+ minutes in the win. Seeing him take such a step back in the final stage is unfortunate. In the meantime, Denver’s roster flexed its versatility as their defense-inclined rookie stepped up and saved the day.
Christian Braun – A
Braun played the best game of his nascent NBA career under the brightest lights. He logged just under 20 minutes and scored 15 points on 7 of 8 shooting. He was a menace, terrorizing the Heat with a taste of their medicine — that signature hustle. Culture, baby. He threw an exclamation point on his six-point third quarter with a steal and a slam. He screamed at the crowd, evoking memories of his signature celebration in the National Championship game with Kansas. He kept it rolling in the fourth quarter, scoring five more points and going right through Jimmy Butler. The rookie got his moment. “He’s a winner,” Jokić reiterated after the game.
Bruce Brown – C+
Brown shot just 1 of 5 from the field, but an insatiable appetite for disruption buoyed his impact. He blocked three shots off the bench.
Jeff Green – C
Green shot just twice, but both were decisive and timely drives. He was vocal and active and avoided costly mistakes. He didn’t secure a single rebound, but Denver survived his minutes.