The Denver Nuggets live to fight another day, clinging to defeat the Golden State Warriors, 126-121, Sunday to force Game Five back in San Francisco. Nikola Jokic was the coordinator in attack, as usual, putting in 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but he received plenty of help, with huge plays from Monty Morris, Aaron Gordon and Will Barton.
After trailing by as much as 17 points, the Warriors came back bravely behind 33 points from Stephen Curry and 32 from Klay Thompson. They struggled for execution on both ends, however, after Draymond Green blundered with just over two minutes in the fourth quarter. Andrew Wiggins added 20 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks for Golden State.
Outside of Jokic, the story has been the hot shootout for Nuggets. As a team, they went 15 to 31 from a 3-point range, led by Morris, who made five of seven attempts from long distance. Novice Bones Hyland scored three consecutive three-pointers during a big extended run in the second quarter and Will Barton won a three-pointer from a corner eight seconds from the end.
The Warriors will now look to advance to the second round in front of their home fans in Game Five on Wednesday, as the Nuggets attempt to extend the series.
Here are some tips from Sunday’s game, followed by a summary of our live updates.
1. Jokic gets help
Jokic averaged 29.3 points, 13 rebounds and five assists over the first three games of the series, but he has yet to receive enough help from his support staff to win. That changed on Sunday, as pretty much every Nuggets player stepped up with a clutch shot or two — first to help build the big lead, then to battle the Warriors’ comeback. The biggest contributor was Morris, who hit the lead with Thompson and made all five of his three-pointers in the first eight minutes of the third quarter.
He also provided one of the game’s biggest picks in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors decided to play one square, with Kevon Looney on Jokic to prevent him from playing. After obtaining a screen from Jokic, Morris realized that instead of falling, Looney stayed with Jokic, leaving the middle wide open. Morris got into position and hit a powerful float to give the Nuggets a two-point lead.
Gordon also made a mid-range jump over Greene late in the fourth quarter, and of course Barton dropped the clincher from Jokic’s pass to put the nail in the Warriors’ coffin.
If the Nuggets were to stay in the series, they needed to be cast. They did it on Sunday, and forced a 5 game.
2. Paul’s party gets crashed
It was bound to happen, but after averaging 28.7 points in the first three playoffs of his career, Jordan Bull finally came down to earth. He struggled his way to 11 points in a 3-for-10 shot, including 1 of 5 from a 3-point range to go with a three-turn. He was effective as a facilitator, though, providing nine assists.
“They were more physical with him tonight…that’s to be expected,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the match. “Teams are going to start throwing a lot of things at him, including fitness, trying to beat him up a little bit.”
Warriors could be contained a little more offensively if Paul didn’t get out of his mind, and it will be interesting to see – in this series and possibly the next – whether the Nuggets develop some kind of scheme to keep Golden State’s newest star under wraps.
3. The Joker or the Thinker?
We all know how much Jokic affects the game when he’s on the field, but in Game 4 he figured out a way to help his team even when he’s off the bench. With Jokic out of the game for defensive purposes, the Warriors faced a crucial inside game, trailing by two with 33.5 seconds left. When the players took the field, Jokic got up from the bench and seemed to shout, “It’s lob” to his teammates, as he gestured to a squawk motion with his hand.
Sure enough, the Warriors tried to shove it into Wiggins, and Austin Rivers made a massive play to break it and grant possession of the Nuggets.
Kerr said after the match that they were going for a two-on-one match, but he “would like to restart the call.” Maybe that’s how the Nuggets play – definitely the best defensive play – and they can partly thank their MVP, who wasn’t even on the field when that happened.
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