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Nine takeaways from game 3 between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers

Some good, some bad, some heartbeaking

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Murray’s weaknesses

One of the best parts about young players making it to the postseason is that, sooner or later, all of their flaws will get exposed. Jamal Murray has played some of the best basketball of his career over the last seven games going all the way back to game 4 of the series against the San Antonio Spurs, but his weaknesses have also been on full display in some of the most crucial moments of tight games.

He has a hard time guarding anyone and opposing teams have built their 4th quarter offense around getting him switched onto the ball at the top of the key or on the wing. Smaller guards are too quick for him and get into the paint with ease. Bigger wings are too strong for him and can shoot over the top. Even on plays that don’t result in a direct shot over Murray, his defensive shortcomings bend the defense in ways that are difficult for the team to overcome.

At one moment at the end of the first overtime, Michael Malone kept Murray on the bench for a key possession so that he could have his best defenders on the court. When the Nuggets got the stop, they then wasted their offensive possession because they didn’t have him . There’s an argument to be made that he should’ve been on the court anyway but that argument misses the point. A coach shouldn’t have to make these types of decisions for his best players. Murray has to find a way to improve his on ball defense and keeping guys in front of him on dribble drives.

Jokic is over underrated, soft a bully, and not a legitimate MVP candidate

Perhaps the best part of this entire playoff run for the Nuggets has been the complete dismantling of every argument that has been thrown to diminish how good of a player Nikola Jokic truly is. In his fist foray into the postseason, Jokic is averaging 24.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.9 blocks on 50% shooting from the field and 40% from the three-point line. He has three triple-doubles, a 43-point game, a 37-point game, two games with 14 assists, and a game where he played 65 minutes.

Anyone questioning Jokic’s talent, heart, or impact on the game can no longer be taken seriously.

16 game players

Way back in June, Draymond Green introduced the concept of “16-game players” as opposed to 82-game players. 82-game players were guys who got you through the regular season. These players often have one or more elite skills but tend to possess a fatal flaw that could be exposed in a playoff series or whose best attributes throughout the regular season could become marginalized once a team puts together a detailed gameplan to limit them. 16-game players, on the other hand, might not be as flashy or impactful throughout the regular season but they are solid enough at everything that they can be trusted to do whatever job is asked of them in the postseason.

Mason Plumlee and Monte Morris have looked like 82-game players so far throughout this playoff run. Morris was a reliable 41% three-point shooter shooter in the regular season but he’s now gone 182 minutes in the playoffs without a single three-point make and has played fewer than 16 minutes in six of he last eight games. Plumlee was considered Denver’s defensive option at center throughout the regular season but hasn’t had that same impact in the playoffs, posting the team’s second worst DRTG.

Both players can be better than they’ve shown and trying to perform at a high level when your minutes are reduced as much as theirs have been is tough, even for the best low-usage bench players. But it’s concerning that the Nuggets look and feel so helpless out on the court whenever Murray or Jokic are not in the game.

Jokic has a switch

Jokic only had 9 points through the first 28 minutes of this game. He looked passive and methodical, holding the ball in the post and either “drawing out” or “allowing” the double team, depending on your perspective. Halfway through the third quarter, with the Nuggets once again shooting below 30% on wide open kick out threes, Jokic decided to take over. He scored 17 points in the quarter including 14 over that final 8 minute stretch. It almost looked like he was conserving energy before stepping on the gas for what he assumed would be the final 20 minutes of the game.

Turns out, there was still a lot more basketball ahead.

Will Barton has heart

The thing that was so disheartening in game two of the Spurs series when Denver Nuggets fans rained boos down on Will Barton was that he was legitimately playing horrible basketball. But like always, he was giving everything that he had. Barton has had a season from hell. The adductor injury in just the 2nd game of the season stole his athleticism and he never got back to being the player he once was. And his game does not scale down very well. He’s a scorer, and he didn’t do a good job of finding ways to positively impact the game once his shooting and finishing were gone.

Last night, playing in front of a fan base that still loves him, Thrill finally started making shots. More importantly, he started making hustle plays all over the court, even on the defensive end where he’s been inconsistent throughout his career.

Malone stuck with Barton throughout the 4th quarter and all four overtimes, perhaps hoping that by showing he can trust Barton in big moments it would somehow bring back his confidence. Had Denver escaped with the win, it might’ve bought Thrill back from the dead. Perhaps it still did?

Gary Harris can defend...

Damian Lillard is just 15-of-41 over the last two games in large part thanks to defensive sequences like this.

Another of the emerging storylines from this playoff series is that Gary Harris can lock up some of the league’s best guards.

...but he needs to shoot for Nuggets to have a chance

Harris is just 3 of 14 (21.5%) from behind the arc in the series including an unbelievable 0-of-7 from the left corner. Those corner three-point attempts are especially important in this series because they are often the end result for a team that is trying to punish the defense for double-teaming the post. And just look at the clean looks he’s been getting:

Jokic is in phenomenal shape

Chubby? Sure, even by his own admission. Unathletic? Of course. But Jokic put to rest the idea that he isn’t in shape. Game 3 lasted 3 hours and 50 minutes and for almost all of that, Jokic was on the court running, jumping (hopping, really), pushing, and just grinding his way to 65 hard-fought minutes. He looked exhausted at the end of it, but no more so than the rest of the world-class athletes who played a fraction of the minutes that he did.

“65, that’s a lot,” Murray said after the game. “I had 55 and I was tired.”

When asked what stood out to him when he looks at the box score, Mo Harkless just laughed. “65 minutes,” he said, speaking of Jokic’s insane minute total. “That’s crazy.”

The Nuggets have heart

65 minutes for Jokic. Murray playing on a bum leg. Barton giving his all even when his season has been tortuous. Going into hostile territory and putting up a fight. The 2018-19 Denver Nuggets are a team for the ages. They’re young but they play with an enormous amount of pride and will to win.