The Denver Nuggets did it again. Down 2-1 in the series, they win Game 4 in a gutsy performance on the road. This team is very resilient, but where does that resiliency come from?
Adam Mares: I think it comes from their coach, Michael Malone. Teams take on the personalities of their leaders and for the Nuggets that means following the lead of Nikola Jokic and Michael Malone, two very different personalities. Jokic brings an unselfishness, creativity and joy to the way the Nuggets play as well as a relaxed vibe under pressure. Malone brings a seriousness and toughness that balances everything out.
Evan Fiala: It comes from a few seasons of growing pains, culminating in the overtime loss that kept Denver out of the playoffs a year ago. The Nuggets finally learned they couldn’t afford to take any game for granted and played that way this entire season, especially during that stretch in December when Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were the lone remaining starters. As a result, we get to witness the special group of guys play with a chip on their shoulder, no matter the opponent or circumstance.
Jeremy Poley: Oddly enough, I think Jokic sets the tone here. Joe “Cool” Montana got his nickname when trailing with three minutes left in the Super Bowl he went to his anxiety-ridden huddle and instead of “ramping” the group up, he pointed to the stands and said “Isn’t that John Candy?”. Were there a “quarterback” in the NBA to pull a move like that you’d better believe it would be Jokic. He has a way of seeing through the narratives that most people naturally build around games, quarters, or any specific situation. Everyone on this team is pretty laid back and take their cues from big honey. And how sweet it’s been!
Gordon Gross: I agree with Jeremy - it comes from the top. It’s Jokic. It also helps that Murray grew up taking frozen waterfall showers and Gary Harris only has a pulse when he’s dunking a basketball or swishing a last second shot, but Malone believes in being upbeat with his team and Jokic believes in not treating brutal basketball losses as any more important than his occasional defeats at the microphone stand. The team stays on an even keel. That’s not to say they don’t get nervous, but they’re learning to execute around those nerves.
Ryan Blackburn: The deciding factor for the Nuggets was losing Game 82 last year. They had a chance to go to the playoffs, and they nearly got there but couldn’t get the job done. We saw signs of this new toughness early in the season when the Nuggets took care of business, gutting out wins they didn’t have any business winning. Jokic put that on his shoulders and has led by example for most of the year. His mentality, along with the consistency Michael Malone has preached since his first year, and haven this team to new heights. It allowed Denver to outlast Portland in Game 4.
Nikola Jokic has been Denver’s rock all season and in these playoffs, but Jamal Murray’s scoring has been the difference maker in most games. Is this what you expected from Murray?
Mares: Not at all. Murray has far exceeded my expectations for him in the post season. He’s still somewhat inconsistent but he’s been one of the best players on the court since game 4 of the Spurs series. His growth throughout the season and into the playoffs is probably the most important development of the year for the Denver Nuggets. He still has some major holes in his game, but that just makes what he’s accomplished so far more impressive.
Fiala: Is this what I expected from a lottery pick at just 22 years old in his first trip to the playoffs? Yes and no. I expected him to make the kinds of mistakes he often makes - the errant pass, the turnovers. I did not expect him to be this good offensively, especially with the up-and-down regular season he had. But in hindsight I’m not surprised. He was made for these big moments, and he’s delivering.
Poley: This is even a little bit better than what I “hoped” for going into this season. I hoped for Murray to hone in his shot this season and pull down 20+. He’s averaging 21.7 in the playoffs right now. Heck of a time to have a growth spurt. Keep the rain falling, Jamal!
Gross: I expect Murray to surprise me, and he keeps coming up with new ways. I didn’t expect him to continue to have these lower body injuries, but he plays through them and finds ways to put the ball in the hoop when it matters most. Inconsistency is his most consistent trait, but his warrior mentality is right beside it and that’s definitely carrying him - and Denver - through a tough matchup and with him personally facing an All-NBA player.
Blackburn: I didn’t think the great games would come with such frequency, and I didn’t think Murray’s averages would come out to 21.7 points and 4.3 assists per game on solid efficiency. Murray has risen to the occasion in a way future stars seem to emerge. He took his lumps at various points, but since Game 3, the worst of those performances, Murray is averaging 24.0 points and 5.1 assists. He has basically transformed into an elite point guard scorer overnight.
Alright. Déjà vu. Tied 2-2 with Game 5 coming back to Denver. This happened once before against San Antonio with Denver winning both remaining home games. Will the results be similar against Portland?
Mares: I think the Nuggets are the better in team and have the wider margin of error but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are capable of hitting enough tough shots to get the upset. My hunch is that the Nuggets will win in 6, but Game 5 will be key for getting a few key guys going including Gary Harris, Will Barton, Malik Beasley, and Monte Morris.
Fiala: I actually think Denver will take it in 6. Given the circumstances, the win on Sunday had to have been a huge confidence booster. I would hope it’s enough for the Nuggets to realize they are the better team, and that if they come out and play the way they did (minus some poor turnovers) this weekend they can put Portland away, even on the road.
Poley: The Spurs & Trail Blazers have been polar opposite styles of teams but similar level of competitive product. We wound up beating the Spurs at their own game - inside shooting. A Nuggets win with only 2 made 3’s is a rare thing. But now here we are again, matching Portland at their own game and going four overtimes with them on their own court and then even stealing a win, all the while knocking down 3’s left and right. We have a really good chance of wrapping this up in six. Our starters are now 2-1 in Portland this year, and that 1 loss was the 4 OT game.
Gross: Traditionally Denver has been bad in Portland, but they’ve been completely unbothered by the great playoff atmosphere in the former Rose Garden and by their opponent specifically. Getting those tough road wins when it counts feels like something this squad can accomplish, and ripping home court back from Portland is now the blow the Trail Blazers have to deal with. Give me Denver in 6 - but if not that Game 7 with Dame and CJ at full bore against the Nuggets in the Pepsi Center is gonna be unbelievably great to see.
Blackburn: I think the Nuggets will win in 7 games. Denver’s shooting has been pretty solid since a poor performance in Game 2, and Denver shooting 42 percent (11 of 25) on three-pointers in Game 4 was a big reason why they won it. Still, with the inconsistency of Denver’s shooting, I expect a dud at some point in Game 5 or Game 6. If that happens, the series will go to a seventh game in which I think Denver repeats their first round outlook and wins a close one.
Outcome of the Series?
This poll is closed
Nuggets in 6
Nuggets in 7
Blazers in 7
Blazers in 6