Denver Nuggets learned a great deal from their first round loss to Golden State Warriors

Apr 27, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball over Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney (5) in the first quarter during game five of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

After being down 3-1 in the series, the Denver Nuggets put up a fight in Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. They went on a 14-2 run to open the third quarter and took as much as a 10-point lead after the half. It looked like Denver could potentially pull the game out but the Warriors came roaring back in the fourth and outscored the Nuggets 32-20 to win 102-98.

Steph Curry scored 11 of his 30 points in the fourth and scored the Warriors last eight points of the game to seal the win. Gary Payton II hit a clutch 3-pointer that gave Golden State the 97-92 lead with just over a minute left in regulation. He scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter including two 3-pointers. 

The deciding factor of this game was beyond the arc, Golden State’s speciality. Denver couldn’t hang in that department but it pretty much dominated everywhere else. The Nuggets out-rebounded the Warriors 50-37, had more fast break points, more second chance points and outscored them in the paint 52-40. However, the Warriors shot 42% from long range while the Nuggets only shot 21%. 

“You can’t ease your way into a series,” Aaron Gordon said. “I feel like that’s one thing that we learned. In Games 1 and 2 we just eased our way in. We just need to have a greater level of urgency from the jump. If we played like our backs are against the wall from the start it would’ve been a different series.” 

After getting blown out in Games 1 and 2 and then losing by a small margin in Game 3, Denver came out with a different level of intensity in Game 4 and shocked the basketball world by beating one of the most lethal shooting teams in the NBA without two of their star players. In Game 5, the Nuggets looked poised for most of the game until the final three minutes. 

“I think we got better and better as the series went on,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “The assignments got a little easier, the matchups got a little easier. We understood what they were looking for. We understood where we had to be, certain things we had to do to stop that. We came up short.”

Cousins was a monster off the bench, proving that the Nuggets signing him was one of the best decisions they made this season. He put up 19 points. He was having a field day at the rim and the Warriors couldn’t do much to stop it. 

“I belong in this league,” Cousins said. “I was given an opportunity. I’m thankful for Michael Malone. A lot of doors closed for me and Mike looked out and gave me an opportunity and I tried to take the most advantage of it as I could.” 

Nikola Jokic was dealing with hamstring tightness so Cousins played some valuable minutes while he rested. The reigning MVP still finished with 30 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists. Jokic was a major reason why Cousins wanted to come to Denver in the first place and he believes that the big man still doesn’t get the credit he deserves. 

“Outside of Russ, probably one of the most disrespected MVPs in this league,” Cousins said of Jokic. “Incredible talent. His game speaks for itself…He doesn’t get treated like an MVP. Every game. He’s leaving the game scratched up, bruised up. Might get eight free throws. Sucks but even through that he plays through it and dominates the game. I just don’t feel like he gets the respect he deserves on a nightly basis.” 

Jokic is one of the most humble players in the NBA and rarely complains about anything. He holds himself to a high standard and does everything in his power to help his team succeed. That’s why MVPs have never mattered to him because they are not a team award. He is the frontrunner for winning it again this year but stands firm in his belief that it doesn’t matter. 

“I never dream about it,” Jokic said when asked if winning another MVP is something he has strived for. “It’s something that if it happens it happens. It’s a great thing, of course. It’s something where my name is always going to be there but if I don’t get it I’m not going to die. I’m going to keep playing and keep trying to play the right way like I did my whole life.”

His unselfish and humble demeanor is what his teammates admire most about him. Aaron Gordon talked about the improvements he wants to make in the offseason and how he looks at Jokic as an example for what he needs to strive for to be the best possible basketball player. Not just for himself but for his teammates as well. 

“It’s less about working harder and much more about working smarter,” Gordon said. “To elaborate, I’m playing with Jok, who is one of the smartest basketball players in the world, so I got to raise my level of IQ to help him, to help everyone and to help the coaching staff. Just becoming more a student of the game. I’ve relied on my talent for so long, just natural talent and not enough on the cerebral part of the game so I think now’s the time to switch.” 

Throughout this series, Gordon started to figure out what the Nuggets needed from him, especially after a few difficult games. In Game 5 he tapped into what he does best and came out aggressive from the jump scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first quarter.

“I feel like I figured out a new way to play in this league, especially on the defensive end,” Gordon said. “Every night bringing that physicality, bringing that intensity, that’s just something my team needs from me and for us to be successful that’s how I got to play. It was just getting back to my roots.” 

Although Gordon went stagnant on the offensive end in the second half, he impacted the game in other ways like grabbing 50-50 balls, rebounding and defending.

Overall, the Nuggets enjoyed an impressive season considering all of the adversity they faced from losing Jamal Murray last season to a torn ACL to losing Michael Porter Jr. at the beginning of this season to a back injury. Not to mention, there were players in and out of the lineup for a variety of injuries and illness. Even then, they still managed to grab the No. 6 seed in the West and compete with one of the best teams in the NBA.

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