© 2024 ALLCITY Network Inc.
All rights reserved.
“He left a piece of him out there tonight.” – Michael Malone
Jamal Murray – A+
Jamal Murray turned in two of the best performances of his career Wednesday night. The first came on the court — his first playoff masterpiece in front of a friendly home crowd in years. He’s done it on the road, and he’s done it in the bubble, a word we’re all sick of by now. Not to worry. We’re turning the page on the past at his behest. He dropped 40 points on the Minnesota Timberwolves in Ball Arena in Game Two. It’s the fifth time he’s done so in his playoff career and the first at home since 2020, since — well. I digress.
Murray tore the wolves to shreds and let his passion lead the way. He was ferocious, yet not at the cost of grace. We’ve seen this so many times in the playoffs. The occasionally labored dribbling in the regular season is supplanted by mesmerizing footwork and stunning confidence. By the time he was done scoring Wednesday night, he’d erased any doubt in his capability of replicating his past accomplishments. And that’s sincerely important to him.
“You can reference the bubble,” Murray told the media after the game. “(But) it’s not two different people.”
He’s onto his second-best performance of the night here—a candid and informative media availability. He tends to level up in this regard as well come playoff time.
“I’m kind of exhausted of hearing (about) that person,” he elaborated. “That’s not me. That’s just the beginning…I have to keep my mentality that way. If I keep looking back, as you guys think, that was it — I’m not going to exceed that.”
Still just 26 years old, Murray’s determined to write a new story for us. A new headline. A new moniker. He’s off to a good start. So are the Nuggets, now 2-0 in a playoff series for the first time under Michael Malone.
Nikola Jokić – A-
Jokić danced with the notion of concern in game two. First, he appeared questionable on the injury report with a right wrist sprain, and then he started 1-4 from the free throw line. He looked reluctant to shoot outside of the paint. He was also on the verge of foul trouble, finishing with four personals. He struggled mightily on defense in the third quarter as the Nuggets neared disaster.
What did all this concern amount to? Nothing. He logged 37 minutes, scored 27 points on 10 of 19 shooting, grabbed nine boards, and dished out nine assists. He finished +6 in a nine-point win. He also ended the game 6 of 9 from that pesky free-throw line. Too many numbers for you? Here’s another:
Michael Porter Jr. – A-
Porter logged just one field goal attempt through three quarters. Early foul trouble took him out of the game and nearly ejected him entirely from the rhythm of the contest. He was either on the bench or utterly detached from whatever Denver wanted to do. Then, everything changed in the fourth quarter.
Murray and Jokić played the entire third as the Wolves got hot. Anthony Edwards, in particular. It was up to young MPJ, then, to take the floor and take control. He responded with a personal 8-0 run. He checked into the game and immediately took a shot that even Klay Thompson might’ve gasped at.
After the game, Malone went out of his way to laud Porter’s contributions. That might sound insignificant, but it rarely happens in MPJ’s case. Consider it yet another example of a new level of trust throughout the organization. Porter is off to a tremendous start in round one.
Aaron Gordon – B–
Foul Trouble is the name of the game for AG in this series. He picked up five Wednesday night, and combined with Porter’s miscues, Denver had to rely heavily on Jeff Green, the lone big off the bench. Still, Gordon logged 32:39 on the floor and found ways to contribute around the rim. He led the Nuggets with ten rebounds and finished-three alley-oops on the night. All three were passes from Jokić, and two directly resulted from a 5-4 pick-and-roll. What a treat.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C
Pope played an essential role in the game one victory. He cooled off significantly in game two. The biggest KCP-related takeaway, from a media perspective—if you’ll indulge me—is his leadership. Quotes emerged from the podium and locker room of his constant communication throughout the series.
“If it’s only me,” Malone said of KCP’s communication. “We’re only going to go so far. But when the players take it upon themselves, that’s when you can become a great team.”
Bruce Brown – C+
Brown struggled from the field and experienced a brief failure in his point guard duties alongside Porter Jr. to start the fourth. With Porter lava hot, Brown looked him off on multiple occasions. It was baffling. But the Brown minutes did go well for Denver. He finished with five assists to only one turnover, two steals, and three rebounds.
Jeff Green – B-
As mentioned above, the Nuggets needed Jeff Green in this game. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but he delivered off the bench. Denver did well in his minutes — he scored 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting and took home one of the two DPOG chains (Jamal Murray). He recorded a handful of stops on Karl-Anthony Towns, who is off to a dreadful start through two games.
Christian Braun – Limited Time
Malone only played Braun for about seven minutes. It was a curious decision to essentially pull him from the rotation, but the seven guys Malone trusted got the job done.