The Nuggets were desperate to win today and not get swept out of the playoffs for consecutive seasons, and they managed to do just that. Nikola Jokic was as great as ever with 37 points on 14 of 21 from the field and 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. However, he also got reinforcements this time. Aaron Gordon and Monte Morris both had over 20 points. Bones Hyland had 15 points and 7 assists. Demarcus Cousins played well in the minutes he played, and arguably above all Austin Rivers played tremendous defense racking up 5 steals and making the Warriors job a lot harder. It wasn’t the perfect game, they let the Warriors hang a decent amount of points on their heads and turned it over a decent amount, but they got out of there with a win and that’s what matters.
The first quarter started with Jokic getting poked in the eye. Aaron Gordon and Draymond Green got into it after Draymond poked Jokic in the eye. He wanted to set a tone that the Nuggets weren’t going down without a fight. It lead to Gordon and Green getting double techs. It started as an incredibly physical game. Jokic on the next possession drew a foul on Klay Thompson and scored in the paint the next two possessions. Unfortunately, the Nuggets defensive effort was just awful and let a 9-0 run get ripped off before Steph Curry even checked in. It was off of a poor closeout on Andrew Wiggins and two open threes from Klay Thompson.
There were poor offensive decisions made, such as Aaron Gordon taking a 1 on 1 jump shot with Draymond Green on him. However, when Steph Curry checked in he missed his first three shots and after an Aaron Gordon cut that resulted in a dime for the Joker, Steve Kerr called a timeout. It wasn’t looking good for the Nuggets, but it could have gone worse. Out of the timeout the Nuggets came out as engaged as they’ve been in the series. They were making the correct defensive rotations and communicating well on that end. They were making the game chippy in the right ways. They attacked the rim with force and were playing with physicality on defense. The shot making was still lacking, but they were putting up a fight and talking trash.
Bones Hyland and Bryn Forbes were the first subs off of the bench and Bones kept up the intensity. He was fouled on a cut after Nikola found him with a nice pass. Bones split at the line to tie the game up at 17 a piece, and then ladies, gents, and non-binary pals; Nikola Jokic continued to absolutely get his. He let two threes rip with no hesitation and found nothing but net on both. He checked out with 18 points on 6 of 9 from the field and 2 of 2 from deep. He also got to the line twice and hit all 4 of his free throws. Throw in 6 rebounds and an assist and that was his stat line in just 11 minutes. The last minute saw the bench let up a slight bit, but they kept pace and the Nuggets entered the second quarter up 5, 26-21.
The second frame opened Jamychal Green and Demarcus Cousins and-1s. The bigs were playing with muscle. However, the early quarter was stolen by Bones Hyland. He was playing good defense on Jordan Poole and then hit three three-pointers in a row. All from 30 or more feet out. He was absolutely electric and put the Nuggets up the most they had been in the series at 17. He forced the Warriors into another timeout.
Afterwards, there was another scuffle with Demarcus Cousins and Draymond Green getting into it. Demarcus got called for a tech because he put his hands in the air after he got fouled. Hit both of his free throw but also got called for his third foul of the game on a reach on Wiggins. With that Joker checked back into the game and the Warriors got two quick dunks. They had cut the deficit to 12 and Malone called a timeout.
Out of the timeout the Nuggets let it slip a bit. Besides a Jokic post up, no points were scored to answer a flurry of Warriors cuts and finishes. Denver quickly called another timeout, but their lead had been cut even further down to only an 8 point lead. However, when they needed him Austin Rivers showed up on the defensive end. He created offense by playing good defense. He had been playing fantastic defense against Steph Curry and hadn’t let him get comfortable and he got two steals on back to back possessions leading to an Aaron Gordon three and Monte Morris foul line trip. The Warriors answered with 4 points, but Monte went to the line again on a fouled 3 pointer and knocked all of them down.
The Nuggets went up 14 at that point, but their offense turned to mush 5 points in 30 seconds, and it could’ve been more if Austin Rivers hadn’t gotten his fifth steal before half; ripping it from Steph Curry. It lead to a Bones Hyland layup in transition to put the Nuggets back up 11. Additionally, Klay Thompson picked up his fourth foul after pushing off of Austin Rivers on an inbound play. The Nuggets had a firm grasp of the game at half. They lead 63-52. Their best half of the series and it was thanks to the contributions of Nikola Jokic, Austin Rivers, and Bones Hyland. The Nuggets did need more from Will Barton and Monte Morris who were 1/9 from the field combined and didn’t play good defense.
With the obvious adjustment being to start Austin Rivers for the third quarter staring him in the face, Michael Malone decided not to make it and started Jeff Green for the second half. This immediately back fired for Denver as they let up a run to let the Warriors get the lead down to 7 off of four Klay Thompson buckets and a Jordan Poole 3. The Nuggets didn’t completely crumble on offense with Monte Morris hitting two threes. It forced the Nuggets into a timeout. The defense had fallen apart and the Nuggets needed to get it back.
Out of the timeout, you would figure that Malone would’ve changed the lineup – nope. He stuck with Jeff Green and Will Barton. Nikola Jokic hit another three but it was answered right back by another Klay Thompson three. At which point Rivers finally checked in. It was for Will Barton though. Malone wanted to stick with Jeff Green so bad, and I don’t understand why. He hadn’t played good defense or recorded any stats besides 1 rebound and 2 points. The Nuggets stabilized a bit with Monte Morris hitting another two 3s to put him at four three pointers and 12 points on the quarter. Andrew Wiggins was the only player to interrupt them with him hitting a layup for his 16th point of the night. Jeff Green was called for a foul which Michael Malone decided to challenge.
The challenge was successful, but the Nuggets let up 4 quick points to Draymond Green. Needing an answer, Monte Morris hit his fifth (!) 3 of the quarter to put the Nuggets at ease. He was having himself a moment and the Nuggets needed it. Jordan Poole and Steph Curry scored a couple of baskets with a Nikola Jokic hook serving as a break between the two. The Austin Rivers show continued though as he buried a three for his first points of the night to add onto his great defense. Warriors called a timeout and the Nuggets were up 92-81. The Nuggets exchanged blows with the Warriors for the rest of the quarter and ultimately went into the final frame up 9. 98-89.
The Nuggets opened the quarter with an all-bench except for Will Barton lineup. Against a lineup the Warriors lineup featuring their three guards. Michael Malone should have shortened the rotation in my opinion, but the Nuggets bench played very sloppy. They committed turnovers, bad fouls, and the lead was cut to 6 at one point. However, Demarcus Cousins had other ideas. He scored 6 points on back to back to back possessions. The Nuggets needed every ounce of it too. Will Barton committed a foul on a Steph Curry four point play. The lead was down to 6 again but another Boogie basket and a layup from Bones Hyland put the Nuggets up 10, and the Warriors called a timeout. The Nuggets won that stint by a point without Jokic. Boogie and Bones gave them great production in their minutes.
However, Malone decided yet again that Jokic didn’t need to come in quite yet and let the Warriors get a little run off to cut the lead to 7. He again should’ve gone to Jokic earlier, but he didn’t and Jokic was brought in to the game at the 7:15 mark. Aaron Gordon got in a good position for a pass from Joker and got an and-1 to go. He hit his free throw to put him at 8-11 from the line for the game. After a pair of Poole free throws he also hit a fallaway jumper at the end of the shot clock over Draymond Green. Good for his 19th points. Klay Thompson responded with a 3, his seventh of the game. Monte hit a pull up mid over Andrew Wiggins out of a pick and roll with Jokic. The two of them were running a lot of two man games like Murray and Jokic. That put them up by 9, but the Nuggets let the Warriors get off a 6-0 run, including another Klay Thompson basket to put him at 32 points, to let the Warriors get the lead down to 3. With 3 and a half minutes to go, it was do or die for the Nuggets. They called a timeout.
Joker hit a nasty pivot move over Draymond Green and forced the Warriors into a timeout. Out of the timeout though, the Nuggets let Jokic get switched on to Steph Curry and that’s not a recipe for success. He got sent to the line off a Will Barton foul and knocked both down. Wiggins got a dunk to cut it down to 1. However, Aaron Gordon was able to draw a foul against Draymond Green which fouled him out. Gordon knocked down both free throws to put the lead back up to 3. Steph got an and-1 after hunting Joker again. Monte Morris made a poor pass to Will Barton and turned it over. Steph Curry hit another shot to put the Warriors up 121-119. Nikola Jokic answered with a layup of his own. With the game tied at 121 a piece, Klay Thompson missed a 3 and Wiggins missed the putback dunk. Monte Morris scored a midrange jumper to put the Nuggets up 123-121. With the final shot to put the game away coming on the next possession from Will Barton off of a dart from Jokic. Will hit the dagger to put the Nuggets up 126-121 and that would be the final as the Nuggets extend their season for another day. What a—thrilling — end.