If you doubt Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets you need to get drug tested
There are seminal moments in any great championship season, but rarely are they defined by urination.
A week after Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said his squad needed to flush a blowout road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it was the Nuggets who defended home court and relieved all pressure on their last 18 regular-season games.
“I thought Nikola (Jokic) was great tonight,” Malone gushed about the two-time MVP. “He’s such an easy target, the ‘non-athlete.’
“‘I like my MVPs to block shots,'” ok that’s fine,” Malone sarcastically said now revving up into full-throttle snark mode about the national conversation around Joker. “Ja Morant in pick-and-rolls is almost unguardable. We wanted to be more aggressive tonight (defensively) I felt Nikola’s levels…I felt Nikola was outstanding defensively. If you watch that game and say he’s a negative defender or a poor defender, I’d like you to pee in a cup.”
While Malone got the last laugh, it certainly didn’t come easily. The Nuggets were a bit lost in the first half in this heavyweight tilt as No. 1 faced No. 2 in the west. Denver was down 58-50 at the break.
“I told our guys at halftime, we had only made 2-of-14 from three and took really good shots, ” Malone said. “I said fellas ‘we’re right in this game.’ I felt in that third quarter we got off to a really good start. (It was a) tie game going into the fourth. And that fourth quarter was one of our best fourth quarters of the season against a really good basketball team. To outscore them 33-to-17, to hold them to 35% from the field, I felt Jamal (Murray) put the team on his back a little bit while Nikola was on the bench. Anytime you can have those kind of plus minutes while Nikola is on the bench, that bodes well for us.”
The Nuggets were down by as many as 11 and fought back against the second-best defense in the NBA. If there was ever going to be a sign that the Nuggets were going to face a stern test in the playoffs, this was it.
The Grizz took this game seriously. Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins had his team come to Denver a day earlier than normal after thrashing the Rockets on Wednesday. He wanted to get them accustomed to the altitude. But he wasn’t the only coach bearing down. Malone said he was skipping the Bruce Springsteen concert Thursday night to “study Ja Morant tape.”
The tone was set.
The sold-out crowd was as hyped as a Nuggets crowd has been all year. A national TV audience got to witness the West’s best battle it out as Jokic MVP-hater Richard Jefferson provided color commentary. Even the Nuggets mascot Rocky hit an absurd half-court shot 50 feet in the air on the world’s tallest ladder.
But the first half result was ugly.
The Nuggets couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean from the beach.
Only Jokic played well. Murray was bad. Aaron Gordon wasn’t doing much and the second unit with Thomas Bryant and Reggie Jackson was downright disgusting. The newest Nuggets, Jackson and Bryant, played a combined 15 minutes and were a combined minus 15 with a total of a single point.
However, there was one significant moment that changed the game.
With 48 seconds left to go in the first quarter, Jeff Green, who has barely been playing, chased down a block at the rim that shook the building. He came out of nowhere in a tie game to show the extreme hustle from a player Jamal Murray playfully called, “old.”
OUTTA NOWHERE pic.twitter.com/gpoTnOKIv3
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) March 4, 2023
Michael Porter Jr said the play changed the game.
Despite the fact the Nuggets had a lousy second quarter, Malone said he wanted to emphasize the positive.
“We showed that clip at halftime, “said Malone. “We label some plays winning plays. A lot of guys would’ve given up on that play. And Jeff has done that before (gotten a chase down block) in a Nuggets uniform. It led to a four-point swing. The game was 80-80 going into the fourth, so plays like that matter.”
The light at the end of the tunnel of a miserable first half was simply the fact that this Nuggets team just doesn’t quit and beating them at home is practically impossible.
The second half started with Murray burying a three. MPJ put up 10 third-quarter points. Jokic, despite being in foul trouble, collected his 25th triple-double, getting his 10th assist on a kick out pass to Porter who buried a four-point play shot from deep that blew the doors off the building.
Before you knew it, Morant looked like he would rather take on a 17-year-old rather than play against the Nuggets for one more second as he whipped off his protective face mask and threw it at his bench while the Grizz waved the white flag late in the fourth. For a Nuggets team that got smoked more than brisket on Beale Street six days ago, revenge tasted sweet and what’s scary is the Nuggets put the rest of the league on notice.
With the win, they stretched their lead in the Western Conference over Memphis to six games which on the surface appears impossible to overcome, especially since the Nuggets own the tiebreaker too. They also squared up Milwaukee and Boston with 45 wins on the season. They have stretched their overall NBA-best home record to an insane 29-4. No wonder the players were quick to change after the game to head out for a Murray birthday celebration. The young superstar turned 26 last week and with a very rare weekend off before their next game at home Monday night against the Toronto Raptors, no team deserved to kick back and toast themselves more than the Nuggets.
The scary truth is the Nuggets are now living the once-dreamed upon the reality of having three max players in their prime all connecting at the same exact time in excellent health.
Malone described the huge win as the best collective team effort of the year. Porter agreed this is what they had in mind if he a Murray were healthy last year. What they didn’t expect was the massive contributions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown.
Nobody could’ve really expected this magical run to coalesce this seamlessly. The stray thread in the sweater appears to be Thomas Bryant and Reggie Jackson. It hasn’t been great for either of those guys. So, while Christian Braun patiently looks on, Malone will take his time to figure things out. Bryant twisted his ankle in the second half which may have been good news for everybody as a secret weapon was unveiled which was Aaron Gordon jumping in and dominating at the five. Now THAT’s a fun twist!
This was a week where the merits of Jokic’s greatness were comically questioned. The absurdity of the notion that Jokic is being favored by ANYTHING aside from his undeniable talent is a farce.
What folks may not have expected was the true danger of this relentless team comes primarily from two players who weren’t available last year because of injuries in Murray and Porter, and two players who weren’t on this team at all in KCP and Brown. With this now evident, never mind peeing in a cup, the rest of the NBA may want to check what’s dribbling down their legs.
.@DenverSportsCom It was the Pee in the cup game. Nuggets make a massive comeback to blowout the Grizz 113-97. Find out why. Post game recap pic.twitter.com/72i3F0Ze3R
— Darren McKee (@DMacRadio) March 4, 2023