• Nikola Jokic was the best player on the floor tonight
  • Jamal Murray is starting to figure out LA’s excellent perimeter defense a bit
  • Jerami Grant was absolutely incredible defensively
  • Gary Harris and Paul Millsap were ideal role players to fill in the gaps
  • Michael Porter Jr. is figuring things out

What an incredible win. After clearly not having the energy to match the Los Angeles Clippers at their best in Game 1, the Denver Nuggets came out firing in Game 2 and struck the first blow. 44 first quarter points for the Nuggets while limiting the Clippers to just 25 and the Nuggets the cushion they never relinquished throughout the contest. The Clippers battled back at various points and were applying some serious pressure to Denver’s offense, but the Nuggets matched their intensity on the other end and made sure not to let go of the rope.

Here are my five takeaways from an excellent Game 2 win:

Nikola Jokic was the best player on the floor

The Nuggets needed to get out to a great start offensively tonight, and Jokic led the charge, scoring 15 of his 26 points in the quarter that included a few three-pointers to space the floor. Jokic drew so much attention at that point that the Clippers had to sell out on him frequently, opening up passing lanes for assists and ball movement for the rest of the game.

Defensively, Jokic accumulated four fouls with just over three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but they were accumulated while working extremely hard on both ends of the floor. Jokic grabbed 18 total rebounds, played solid position defense and even had three blocks, at least one of which came against Kawhi Leonard. He only had four assists compared to six turnovers, but the pressure he put on the Clippers absolutely wore them out.

Jokic was the best player on the floor tonight. He wasn’t a liability on the defensive end because he can stick with the Clippers’ big forwards a little bit better than Utah’s shifty guards. If he can continue winning his individual matchup consistently, the Clippers may not have an answer for him.

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Jamal Murray is figuring some things out

I thought Murray had some really nice looks in Game 1 that he just couldn’t get to go down. That changed in Game 2. Murray may have had to work harder for his shots tonight, but he made them at a much more efficient clip. 27 points on 21 field goal attempts isn’t the elite efficiency we are used to seeing from Murray after the Utah series, but it’s a better place for him to be.

Murray’s going to be challenged in this series more than he ever has before. There was a possession where the Nuggets ran Murray off a screen to get free of Patrick Beverley, and Kawhi Leonard switched onto him. That’s ludicrous. Murray showcasing the ability to go at Kawhi and Paul George consistently will change this series. He was excellent tonight. Let’s see if he can keep the momentum going.

Take a bow Jerami Grant

What an incredible game from Grant defensively tonight. Offensively, he missed a bunch of shots he frequently makes, but defensively, he was absolutely locked in. He’s the primary defender on Kawhi Leonard, and Leonard’s numbers bear out the work Grant did against him:

  • 13 points
  • 4-of-17 from the field, 0-of-3 from three, 5-of-7 from the free throw line
  • 8 assists to 4 turnovers
  • +/- of Minus-16 in an 11-point Nuggets win

It wasn’t all Grant, but he was the most prevalent piece, blocking shots, drawing offensive fouls, and using his length and athleticism to contest every shot as much as could be asked of him.

Take a bow Jerami Grant, you earned an off day.

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Gary Harris and Paul Millsap did exactly what Denver needed to earn a win

Tonight was a great example of how Michael Malone is most definitely smarter than every other Nuggets fan when it comes to the game of basketball. He didn’t make any major changes to the starting lineup, choosing to rely on Gary Harris and Paul Millsap to set the tone defensively and do enough on the other end of the floor to get Denver the win. It was a great call, and both Harris and Millsap were excellent defenders both on and off the ball. Both spent a ton of time on Paul George (Harris especially), Kawhi, and Marcus Morris (Millsap especially).

On the other end, Harris and Millsap combined to make six three-pointers which is what it’s going to take to win this series. The Nuggets need their two stars to be as stable as possible. Getting 25+ from each of Murray and Jokic changed the Clippers’ game plan. When they went small with JaMychal Green at center and started to switch a lot more, that scrambling allowed for some open shots from Harris that he knocked down. Forcing the Clippers to bend their defense and send a third man to stop Murray-Jokic games is going to open up opportunities for Denver’s role players. If Harris, Grant, and Millsap can take advantage of the open looks, Denver has a great chance.

Michael Porter Jr. is learning a lot

This was the first game of Michael Porter Jr.’s career where I thought he was a legitimately positive defender. His ability to show hard and recover quickly when his man sets a ball screen stood out as it actually slowed down the Clippers offense to consistently try it. Porter grabbed two steals this game, including one where he ripped the ball out of JaMychal Green’s hands after he tried to isolate Porter 1-on-1. Overall, Porter’s rotations, movements, and decisions all felt correct. He didn’t always execute perfectly, but his defense has taken a major step forward.

Offensively, he’s soooooo close to having a breakout game. He grabbed four offensive rebounds, had some put back layups, hit some nice jump shots, and even hit a three-pointer while lifting from the weak side on a Monte Morris pick and roll. The Nuggets are going to need his length and athleticism on that end as the Clippers continue to turn up the intensity. His 11 points today were a great bounce back from the poor shooting performance he had in Game 1. Let’s see if he can continue to build on it.