- Michael Porter Jr. brings it again
- Nikola Jokic is “a reincarnation of Larry Bird”
- Jerami Grant gets it going
- Paul Millsap struggles on the defensive end of the floor
- Solid point guard play from Monte Morris and PJ Dozier
It was something special to watch the Denver Nuggets once again perform with the pressure of missing three starters today. The San Antonio Spurs played a guard heavy rotation, and initially, it didn’t look like the Nuggets had enough on either end to stay in the game. Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic felt otherwise though as they led the Nuggets to another impressive victory fueled by 43 points in the fourth quarter of a 132-126 win.
Here are my five takeaways:
Michael Porter Jr. is breaking out as a star of the bubble
On Monday, Porter was called upon by Michael Malone to play 44 minutes in an overtime victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has the best game of his professional career with 37 points on 16 shots and 12 rebounds to boot. The Nuggets won on the strength of his offensive performance, but today, the question was whether Porter could follow it up?
30 points and 15 rebounds later, Porter is looking like a man on a mission to prove something. With so many starters out, including Denver’s second and third most important starters offensively, Porter’s opportunity to impact the offensive end of the floor has been met with multiple 30-point performances on absurd efficiency. It’s hard to beat the 75% Porter shot from the field against OKC, but the 58% he shot today will have to do.
At the beginning of the game, Porter opened up the game by hitting his first three shots, all three-pointers, and spacing the floor for the rest of Denver’s offense. When his perimeter shot stopped falling, his ability to cut, rebound, and score with incredible touch around the rim allowed him to transition into one of the most physically imposing interior scorers in the NBA. He used that length and instinct to grab 15 rebounds, including four on the offensive end, changing the entire game with some of the difficult baskets he accumulated with ease.
Two days ago, I said that Michael Malone has a major decision to make when all of his players are healthy and Gary Harris and Will Barton are ready to start. Now, Porter is making that decision easier by the day. If he continues impacting the game the way he is, he won’t just be a starter in the bubble playoffs, but rather a star.
Nikola Jokic draws praise from Gregg Popovich once again
It’s easy to forget for great Nikola Jokic is while Porter continues to excel, but Jokic won’t let anybody forget. His four rebounds were disappointing (though the Nuggets won the rebounding battle 46-35 so who really cares?) but the 25 points on 17 shots to go with 11 assists helped the Nuggets keep things moving on a consistent basis.
In the third quarter, after struggling to shoot from the perimeter during his bubble experience, Jokic finally got his shot to go, hitting back-to-back-to-back threes to give the Nuggets some much needed life to their outside shooting. Porter has been the only consistent shooter in the bubble, but if Jokic is hitting threes with regularity, defenses have little chance to stop a fully stocked Nuggets attack.
After the game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich offered some sincere praise for Jokic’s abilities.
Gregg Popovich on Nikola Jokic: "He's a reincarnation of Larry Bird"— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) August 5, 2020
That checks out.
Jerami Grant gets it going
A 19-point performance by Grant in Denver’s bubble opener against the Miami Heat was lost in Denver’s poor all-around play throughout the second half of that game, including from Grant himself. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Grant’s former team, the forward struggled to make an impact on either end, though he closed the game with good perimeter defense.
Today, Grant started to figure some things out. He finished with 22 points on 8/14 from the field and 2/6 from three, two rebounds, a steal, and a block. The rebounding remains a concern (even though the Nuggets won the rebounding battle 46-35) but I give Grant a pass for some of his troubles. He has been called upon to do a lot of things he isn’t fully comfortable with offensively, from pull-up threes, dribble drives into traffic, and camping on the perimeter while Porter, Jokic, Torrey Craig, Mason Plumlee, and Paul Millsap work the interior and cutting lanes.
He wasn’t perfect, but he was certainly better. He made some important plays defensively, was hustling for loose balls, and carried some of the scoring burden with Denver’s three starting guards out. When those guards return, Grant will return to much more of a fourth or fifth option offensively. The offense will flow better overall, and Grant will get better quality shot attempts for sure.
Paul Millsap had some difficulties defending the perimeter
This isn’t a condemnation of Millsap, who has been the best Nuggets defender for the past three seasons and will continue to be solid under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, those circumstances didn’t include today. With the Spurs starting four guards/wings around big center Jakob Poeltl, Millsap was forced to guard Lonnie Walker IV for much of the game. When he was switched onto other players, it was Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, or DeMar DeRozan, all athletic guards with the quickness and understanding to get an advantage going to the basket.
Millsap finished the game having played just 17 minutes, with Denver going to Grant off the bench as well as PJ Dozier a bit more frequently. The 35-year-old veteran had some good moments, including seven rebounds and an important three-pointer to stop a Spurs early run in the third quarter, but this wasn’t the game the Nuggets needed Millsap for. When Denver plays Portland tomorrow and faces Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic, and Hassan Whiteside, that will be a better matchup.
Monte Morris and PJ Dozier provide genuinely good point guard play
Both point guards started out struggling in the bubble against Miami. Monte Morris found his stride during the Oklahoma City game, and he continued that trend today. 19 points and four assists for Morris today to go along with his patented zero turnovers helped the Nuggets keep the offense moving to the places it needed to be. So far, Morris has risen to the occasion with Jamal Murray sidelined, and without Morris, the Nuggets may be 0-3 in the bubble.
Dozier finally got things going today as well, with 12 points, eight assists, and five rebounds in 25 minutes of the bench. Normally inefficient, Dozier shot 4/8 from the field today, and he even hit one of his three attempted three-pointers, a massive bucket in the middle of the fourth quarter that the Nuggets needed desperately. His size allowed the Nuggets to match him up with different Spurs guards defensively, and he was an important piece of a rotation that kept the game afloat whenever Jokic or Porter were resting.
When Murray returns, don’t be surprised if both point guards remain in the rotation in some capacity. Morris will be important, but I suspect Dozier could have an impact as well.