• MPJ responds in a big way
  • Jokic clutches up in overtime
  • Monte Morris plays a major role
  • A new lineup discovered
  • Three-point shooting not where it needs to be

In a herculean effort by Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets found a way to win against a solid Oklahoma City Thunder team. Chris Paul was sneaky and devious in every way, Danilo Gallinari was hitting deep threes, and Abdel Nader chipped in a random 13 points on six shots. Despite being down three starters, the Nuggets scrambled to an overtime victory.

Here are my five takeaways:

Michael Porter Jr. responds in the best way possible

Two days ago, I wrote the following after Denver’s loss to the Miami Heat:

“When the shot isn’t falling, Porter has to find different ways to contribute. He had some positive moments defensively, but the overall picture was cloudy in terms of legitimate impact.

Consider this a wake-up call for Porter, who needed to be challenged so he can appreciate just how difficult winning in the NBA really is. He had an opportunity to establish a hold on a playoff rotation spot today, maybe even a starting spot. What happened instead was the textbook image of a rookie with sky high potential failing in a playoff environment.”

Well, message received.

Porter had 37 points and 12 rebounds in an absurd 44 minutes of playing time today. He shot 12-of-16 from the field, 4-of-6 from three-point range, and 9-of-9 from the free throw line. An absurdly efficient performance for the 22-year-old, who desperately needed a bounce back performance after a tough showing on Saturday.

Some time between Saturday and today, Porter got the message on exactly how to be impactful. He attacked the basket with immediate aggression on cuts, off-ball movement, and offensive rebounding, and the shot chart reflects how he generated many of his baskets early in the contest:

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After he racked up some easy points, the jumper started falling with more regularity. Two of his most important shots were back-to-back threes at the 9 minute mark of the fourth quarter to give the Nuggets a four-point lead. The second one was a ridiculous pull-up that only players of his talent level and pull off at his size.

There’s no way to know how Michael Malone will handle the rotation when everyone gets healthy, but while so many injuries have impacted Denver, there’s no way Porter doesn’t receive more opportunities to prove himself going forward. His ability to impact the game through shot-making is a unique skill that only two or three other Nuggets have at their disposal consistently. It’s also tailor made for the playoffs, and the Nuggets organization knows it.

Oh and by the way, the defense was good. Not perfect, but good enough.

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Nikola Jokic rises to the occasion

While Porter started out hot and carried the Nuggets throughout, it took Jokic awhile to truly get going. He had seven points in the first half and wasn’t looking comfortable on the floor with cramped spacing throughout the game. He found his footing in the second half though scoring over, around, and through Steven Adams and the rest of the OKC defense. He worked his way into the paint, forgoing his jump shot for the most part and instead being a bully down low.

Jokic finished the game with 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, and the Nuggets needed this performance from him with so many offensive weapons sidelined. It wasn’t pretty, but it was certainly artful, and any time you get the Sombor Shuffle, it goes in the article. No questions asked.

Monte Morris plays a major role

Quietly, Morris had himself a tough game last Saturday against the Heat, and through the first half today, he was putting up a goose egg in the points column on 0-of-5 shooting. Then, something happened, and he started to find his shot again. Morris finished with 17 points and 4 assists on 6-of-12 shooting, including some important baskets and free throws late in the fourth quarter. Morris was 3-of-4 from the field in the fourth and had 10 of his 17 points in that period, helping keep the Nuggets. He finished a Plus-28 in the plus-minus department and was as impactful as can be asked for on both ends of the floor.

The Nuggets are going to need Monte Morris. PJ Dozier has struggled in his bench point guard minutes and doesn’t look comfortable initiating the offense as a facilitator. When Jamal Murray comes back, Morris will move back to a bench role and will need to stay engaged and impactful if the Nuggets want to have a chance in the playoffs. Morris is a smart player, and he showcased that today. It was a great starting point for him going forward.

A New Lineup discovered

The Nuggets closed the game with Morris, Porter, Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jerami Grant on the floor today. Torrey Craig and Troy Daniels subbed in on occasion, but the above five played almost the entire final five minutes of the fourth quarter and the entire overtime. They were very good with Morris, Porter, and Jokic managing most of the offense.

What was interesting to me was how they played defensively. Grant and Millsap spent a lot of time on the perimeter switching onto Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It wasn’t perfect, and Millsap was blown by defensively on a few occasions throughout the game and really showed some age, but the switch-ability of Porter, Grant, and Millsap will be a key factor when defending teams with bigger lineups.

The Nuggets got it done today, even though they were forced into this look against an Oklahoma City team with a small perimeter lineup. Against the Loa Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, playing big may be Denver’s best possible answer for Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. Those teams are huge, but Porter, Millsap, Grant, and Jokic are comparably even bigger.

Throw Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton into the mix while finding spots to use the extra size on the wing, and the Nuggets may have found an interesting new wrinkle going forward.

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Three-point shooting not where it needs to be

Among the 22 teams to enter the bubble, the Nuggets are currently 21st in three-point percentage, having shot 25% from distance in their first two games. That’s not where it needs to be, and while missing Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton doesn’t help matters, many of the Nuggets in the bubble have got to start shooting it well for Denver to have a chance in the playoffs.

  • Nikola Jokic is 1-of-10 form three-point range in the first two games
  • Jerami Grant is 1-of-7
  • Torrey Craig is 2-of-9
  • Monte Morris is 0-of-3
  • PJ Dozier is 0-of-4

Only Michael Porter Jr. (6-of-14, 43%), Paul Millsap (2-of-5, 40%) and Bol Bol (1-of-2, 50%) are above 40% from three thus far. All three of those guys have established themselves as good shooter thus far, but they will need some help.

When Murray, Harris, and Barton return, look for the Nuggets to get back into a good flow and shoot a better percentage. Second-to-last in the bubble so far isn’t going to cut it going forward.