The Denver Nuggets season came to an end thanks to another Phoenix Suns victory 125-118. It was an intense and dramatic game, due in part to Jokic’s ejection. He received a flagrant 2 ejection for his hard foul of Cameron Payne. Although the MVP was forced to leave the court, Denver never quit. Will Barton ignited most of the energy for the Nuggets as he ended the night with 23 points and five rebounds.
The backcourt duo of Paul and Booker was fantastic again. Paul ended with 35 on 14-19 shooting and Booker 32 points on 11-24 from the field. Phoenix is the hottest team in the NBA right now and possibly all of sports.
This is a depressing end to a great Nugget season. The majority of the NBA landscape never would have imagined Jokic capturing the MVP, yet he did and dominated the voting. When Jamal Murray went out, many thought the season was over right there, but Denver commanded the end of the regular season with one of the NBA’s best records. Many predicted Portland’s backcourt to be too much for the Nuggets to handle. Lillard stacked historic performance one after another, yet Denver beat them in six games.
Considering the uphill battle the Nuggets faced towards the end of the season, it is miraculous for them to make it past the first round. We witnessed history as Jokic raised his name among the all-time greats, and delivered the Denver Nuggets their first and only MVP. It was an unfortunate end to the season, but as the years go by many will remember this as the Jokic MVP season instead of the second round sweep season.
With that being said, here are my five takeaways from Denver’s last game of the season:
Nikola Jokic battled his heart out. He didn't find the consistent stroke from three, but he put up historic numbers mostly off his effort in the paint. Early in his career, you might have seen his loaf it at times but in this playoffs, he put forth about as much effort as anyone could. His offensive rebounding was a huge testament to his work in this series. He never quit off a missed shot and provided all the production he could considering Phoenix’s defensive game plan for him.
It was unfortunate his season ended on an extremely questionable ejection. It was definitely a flagrant and a frustration foul, but would the NBA have ejected LeBron, Durant, or Curry in the same situation? I don't think so and I say that with a lot of confidence. We have been waiting for Jokic to get the superstar calls, and he does at times, but when it really matters he does not seem to get the respect he deserves.
Jokic’s season will go down in history as one of the best ever and especially for a center. In an era that is dominated by superior guard play, he brought attention and stardom back to the center position. What a treat to watch throughout the season, and he will only get better as this ending will serve as motivation going forward.
Everything was a struggle offensively. This is what Reggie Miller said towards the end of the first quarter and he was spot on. It seems as though nearly every Denver shot was contested, and they were often forced to wind the shot clock down to find a decent look. On the other side, Phoenix appeared to get easy looks early in the shot clock and they capitalized.
I will give credit where it is deserved. Denver did not knock down their open looks, but the Suns' defense was stifling all series. They are number one in postseason defense for a reason. Crowder, Bridges, Ayton, and Paul were excellent defensively and influenced countless missed Nugget shots.
Denver struggled once again from the three-point line. It poses an interesting situation as the offseason approaches. The Nuggets are a ball-movement-oriented group, so when they get open shots it is imperative for them to knock them down because they do not have a bunch of effective isolation players. Consistent, veteran, outside shooters might be an area of focus for Denver in the offseason.
We’re left wondering what could have been with Denver’s new lineup changes. Facu and Rivers gave Denver great energy and decent production in the Portland series, but Phoenix was too good to throw out a 3rd string starting backcourt. Morris and Barton showed their worth the last couple of games along with JaVale McGee tonight.
Barton was great on the boards tonight along with his second-half scoring. His effort in the 4th quarter ignited much-needed energy and production. Morris was effective as well getting into the paint at times and then hitting perimeter jumpers. He requires more attention offensively than any other Nugget point guard right now. Campazzo is a nice player but no defense respects his offensive game in the paint, so Morris gave them another gear offensively.
Denver’s worst quarter all season has been the third, and Will Barton carried them offensively in the third and for much of the fourth. Denver still probably would lose this series with a healthy Barton, but you have to wonder how much more competitive this series could have been if he was in the starting lineup througout.
It felt like we watched the same exact game all series. Denver competed in the first half of every game, but it always seemed they were tailing by about ten. Towards the end of the third in every game, Phoenix closed by dominating the Nuggets and going on a double-digit scoring run. Every time the Nuggets developed a little run, Phoenix answered with a better one.
The 4th quarter was more competitive than previous games because of Denver’s desperation but it still ended up with the same result. Porter and Barton kept the Nuggets afloat offensively in the 4th, but it seemed fatigued started to set in towards the end. Tonight’s win is their sixth straight win as they are in absolute domination mode.
I applaud the Suns for their incredible execution. You rarely see this type of basketball where every single person who gets minutes is absolutely starring in their role. Not just in basketball but every team sport. Their run this postseason is reminiscent of a playoff football team. In the NFL, a low seeded team can get hot and make a run all the way to the Super Bowl, but you rarely, if ever, see that in the NBA.
Phoenix was hitting on all cylinders as every single player performed well in this series. Their coaching was fantastic as well. Their offensive scheme afforded them countless easy looks and the Nuggets could never match that on the other end. They kept running the same downhill screening action with Chris Paul and it killed Denver. I’ve never seen a player afforded the same shot in the exact same spot and have it be open nearly every time. Most of that is due to the Nugget's defensive inadequacy, but I applaud the Suns for taking advantage because Denver certainly could not with their open shots.