The Denver Nuggets live to fight another day, hanging on to beat the Golden State Warriors, 126-121, on Sunday to force a Game 5 back in San Francisco. Nikola Jokic was the orchestrator on offense, as usual, putting up 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but he received plenty of help, with huge plays from Monte Morris, Aaron Gordon and Will Barton down the stretch.
After trailing by as many as 17 points, the Warriors made a valiant comeback behind 33 points from Stephen Curry and 32 from Klay Thompson. They struggled to execute on both ends, however, after Draymond Green fouled out with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Andrew Wiggins added 20 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks for Golden State.
Outside of Jokic, the story was the Nuggets’ hot shooting. As a team they went 15 for 31 from 3-point range, led by Morris, who made five of his seven attempts from long distance. Rookie Bones Hyland made three straight 3-pointers during a big stretch in the second quarter and Will Barton made the game-clinching 3 from the corner with eight seconds left.
The Warriors will now look to advance to the second round in front of their home crowd in Wednesday’s Game 5, as the Nuggets attempt to extend the series.
Here are a few takeaways from Sunday’s game, followed by a recap 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 had yet to receive enough aid from the supporting cast to eke out a win. That changed on Sunday, as pretty much every Nuggets role player stepped up with a clutch shot or two — first to help build the big lead, then to fight off the Warriors comeback. The biggest contributor was Morris, who went shot-for-shot with Thompson and made all five of his 3-pointers in the first eight minutes of the third quarter.
He also made one of the biggest shots of the game in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors decided to play a box-and-one, with Kevon Looney on Jokic to prevent him from making a play. After getting a screen from Jokic, Morris recognized that instead of dropping, Looney stayed with Jokic, leaving the middle wide open. Morris got to his spot and hit a tough floater to give the Nuggets a two-point lead.
Gordon also made a clutch mid-range jumper over Green late in the fourth quarter, and of course Barton knocked down the clincher off a Jokic pass to put the nail in the Warriors’ coffin.
If the Nuggets were going to stay in this series, they needed the role players to step up. They did that on Sunday, and forced a Game 5.
2. Poole party gets crashed
It was bound to happen, but after averaging 28.7 points in his first three career playoff games, Jordan Poole finally came down to Earth. He struggled his way to 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range to go with three turnovers. He was effective as a facilitator, however, dishing out nine assists.
“They were more physical with him tonight … That’s to be expected,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “Teams are gonna start throwing a lot of stuff at him, including physicality, trying to get under his skin a little bit.”
The Warriors are a bit more containable offensively if Poole isn’t playing out of his mind, and it will be interesting to see — in this series and potentially the next — whether the Nuggets have developed a sort of blueprint for keeping 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 court, but in Game 4 he figured out a way to help his team even when he was on the bench. With Jokic out of the game for defensive purposes, the Warriors faced a crucial inbounds play, trailing by two with 33.5 seconds left. As the players took the court, Jokic rose up from the bench and appeared to shout out, “It’s a lob” to his teammates, gesturing an over-the-top motion with his hand.
Sure enough, the Warriors tried to lob it in to Wiggins, and Austin Rivers made a tremendous play to break it up and give the Nuggets possession.
Kerr said after the game that they were going for a quick two-for-one, but that he “would like that play call back.” It was perhaps the play of the game for the Nuggets — definitely the best defensive play — and they can partially thank their MVP, who wasn’t even on the court when it happened.