What is your biggest takeaway from game 6?
Adam Mares: The bench woes are not behind the Denver Nuggets. After game 5, you kind of hoped that the Nuggets had some sort of answer for those early 2nd quarter barrages that the Portland bench has put on the them but after that Blazers 11-2 run last night, it’s clear that the Nuggets are still in trouble whenever Nikola Jokic goes to the bench. More importantly, Terry Stotts seems to realize that he can lean on Rodney Hood a lot more than he has in games 1-5. How the Nuggets defend him will go a long way toward determining the winner of game 7.
Ryan Blackburn: Mason Plumlee cannot play more than 10 minutes in Game 7. He just hasn’t brought his A game to the postseason, and it’s starting to really hurt the Nuggets. Among players to play 15 minutes per game in the playoffs that are still competing, Plumlee’s -14.7 Net Rating is the worst by a mile. The next closest is Will Barton’s -7.9 Net Rating. At this point, there’s no time for hard feelings. This is the time for winning basketball. On average, Plumlee is hurting Denver right now worse than Isaiah Thomas ever did. It’s time to make an adjustment before it’s too late.
Gordon Gross: Jokic can’t sit. I think we’re all on the same page, but essentially Denver’s point guard woes are unsolvable at this point of the season. In Game 6 the Nuggets had an easy lead after the first quarter and the second that Jokic sat down the lead evaporated like cotton candy in a river. Malone tried to respond by re-inserting Jamal Murray early but it wasn’t a good night for Murray and it was not enough. When Jokic sits two problems happen: the offense is in the hands of Will Barton or Monte Morris, neither of whom have been good at directing it in the playoffs, and Mason Plumlee plays - which as Ryan says above has been disastrous. They’ll have to give Jokic breathers but this is Game 7 - as Malone said in the last one, either they win or they’re going fishing, so what’s to save Nikola for? I expect a long game for him.
Michael Malone played Monte Morris just 2:29 in game 6. Was that the right call?
Mares: At this point, I’m not sure there is much you can do for poor Monte’s confidence. He doesn’t seem to be reading the floor very well and I’m not sure game 7 is the moment to get him back on track. Last night, I didn’t think he was the reason the 2nd unit was falling apart but he certainly wasn’t able to help. So I don’t think it was the right call to bench him so quickly and never bring him back in, but it’s also hard to keep relying on a guy who is in a funk right now.
Blackburn: It’s hard to know where Plumlee’s struggles end and where Morris’ struggles begin. Both have been really bad. I have a feeling Morris looks different with more spacing around him in these playoffs, but if he’s only ever going to play next to Plumlee on the second unit, then it’s definitely a good call to limit his minutes. I’d look to limit both Plumlee and Morris while using Barton as the second unit point guard with switchable bodies around him. Barton-Harris-Beasley-Craig-Millsap while Jokic and Murray get their rest.
Gross: I’m a Morris stan. I think he deserves more minutes. but Morris sat because Malone wanted to try Murray as a salve for Denver’s gaping bench wounds and it didn’t work. In the next game, I expect Morris to get more time to rest Murray and for Plumlee to be the one whistling for minutes - and I expect that to go better. Morris has not been good in the playoffs, but Denver has to piece together a rotation somehow.
Who will be the biggest x-factor in game 7?
Mares: Paul Millsap. He was pretty bad in game 6, going just 4/15 from the field and failing to lift that 2nd unit when they needed him most. He’ll need to quarterback that group and find a way to score on Evan Turner or else the Nuggets will start hemorrhaging points again. I also wouldn’t mind seeing him guard Rodney Hood a bit in game 7. It might make for some difficult cross-matching but the Nuggets don’t have anybody else with the size or skill to stop him. Why not try Millsap on him?
Blackburn: Gary Harris. He didn’t have the best defensive game last night, and it helped contribute to big performances from Lillard, McCollum, and Hood. Those three combined for 87 points on 31 of 59 from the field. Harris has to do his part to slow down one of those guys. I’d lean toward putting Craig on Lillard again to start the game, which means Harris can’t let McCollum get going as he has for most of the series. Harris needs his best defensive performance of the playoffs for Denver to advance, because as we know from San Antonio-Denver, scoring can be rough in a Game 7.
Gross: The referees. This is not to blame them, but with Jokic needing to play something like 44 of 48 minutes, foul calls against him are crucial. They’ve fouled him out of two games in this series now and if they get call-happy against him - or he takes stupid frustration fouls as he is known to do - it could throw that scenario out completely and force Denver to win on the backs of Morris and Plumlee and Millsap and Murray. Maybe they would still win - but Denver’s best path to victory is to get a reasonable whistle, or maybe what Portland would refer to as a favorable one for Denver’s star, and keep everybody in the game.