I’m not going to do my normal “Five Takeaways” article. Frankly, there’s no need for me to spend more time crafting an article than the effort the Nuggets put out there today.
It really is a special kind of pathetic for the Denver Nuggets to put together the two performances they just had in the NBA playoffs.
This was embarrassing. This was unacceptable. This was some of the worst basketball I have ever seen in my 23 years on this earth.
Is it NuggLife? No. This was something much worse. This was Denver folding like a taco on Tuesday, and it starts with their best player.
Nikola Jokic deserves absolute evisceration for his effort level today on both ends. One game after being abused defensively in Game 2 by the Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Joe Ingles, the hope for Denver is for their star player, a 25-year-old offensive phenom, to set the tone for how the rest of the series is going to go. The Nuggets needed a lift from their best player in a dark moment.
Instead, he got worse.
Another wrinkle the Jazz are throwing at the Nuggets is weakside exchanges during ballscreens: pic.twitter.com/jutfGenpaI— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) August 21, 2020
Moving aside from the fact that these clips are about something the Jazz are doing, watch Jokic. Watch the resistance and effort level he offers either at the point of attack or in trying to recover back to Rudy Gobert. There’s nothing, and then there’s what Jokic did for the majority of Game 3 defensively.
On the other end of the floor, Jokic attempted 13 total shots, but just two of those came in the paint. He accumulated zero offensive rebounds. There was no “attack” mentality in his game today. There was no will to be the aggressor. Everything was done at half speed, and it bogged the Nuggets offense down more than any lineup choice Michael Malone could have thrown out there.
The Nuggets are going down without a fight right now. There’s very little physicality and aggression. After Game 1, the Jazz have repeatedly punched Denver in the mouth to little response. Rudy Gobert is taking everything personally and setting the tone, while the Jazz perimeter players, Donovan Mitchell chief among them, are executing the motion sets to perfection to get open perimeter shots. No Nuggets five-man unit has put together a quality stretch to mitigate that. No matter what Michael Malone tries, the Nuggets have looked lost out there.
But more than anything is the effort and engagement level, the will to do what it takes play after play to make life challenging for the Jazz. The Nuggets have flirted with that effort level for three games, but they’ve only found stretches where they play that way. Not being able to do so for 48 minutes had the Nuggets unprepared for the onslaught of points the Jazz were capable of dishing out, and the attitude on the bench reflects it like water.
Nuggets bench morale says it all... pic.twitter.com/sIcGP6FSmq— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 21, 2020
Are the Nuggets going to go out quietly in this series? I sure hope not. The identity of this team throughout the entire regular season was one of resilience and being able to bend without fully breaking. The fourth quarter was always Denver’s quarter to rally back, execute well, and prove they had the high level talent to win at the highest levels.
The problem: Denver’s not even making it to the fourth quarter. They’re being demolished in the first three. Their best player appears disinterested in being the best player for 48 minutes, and that has set the tone for the rest of the team in the worst way possible.
Do they have the guts to turn this thing around? Do they have the defensive know-how when they put offensive units out there? Do they have the offensive firepower when they put out defensive units? So far, the Nuggets have had to make such dramatic choices between offense and defense. They have yet to find a five-man group that can do both. They may never find it.
Right now though? All Nuggets fans are feeling is pain. Copious amounts of pain.