It took everything from the Denver Nuggets to win tonight, but they got the job done.

After a high scoring affair in Game 1, the Nuggets ground out a 97-87 victory to take a 2-0 in the series over the Phoenix Suns. The Nuggets held the Suns to just 14 points in the fourth quarter, turning into a defensive team in order to hold down home

“97-87, I will take that any day of the week,” shared Michael Malone.

Nikola Jokić, fortunately for the Nuggets, was not affected by the ugliness of tonight’s offense. He rose above it with an incredible performance, putting up 39 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists to go with two steals and block. Jokić had just 13 points in the first half but produced 26 points in the second, putting the team on his back like an MVP should.

The Nuggets scored just 40 points in the second half, but they managed 57 points the rest of the way, primarily due to Jokić. His aggressiveness going right at Deandre Ayton made it possible. It was a 1-on-1 matchup that Jokić struggled a bit with during most of Game 1 and the first half of Game 2, but he did it anyway, fighting for post position, outworking Ayton on rebounds and in transition, and simply hitting big time shots.

Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Jamal Murray finally broke out of his slump. He made two baskets and set the table for Jokić down the stretch, ultimately finishing 3-of-15 from the field and 0-of-9 from three but saving his best for the end.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Suns in Game 2:

An absolute rock fight offensively

After the fireworks from both teams in Game 1, it was fair to assume that Game 2 would be more of the same: high level shotmaking, elite execution of sets, and hustle plays turning into points.

Absolutely none of those things happened, and Monday night became a rock fight for the ages. Neither team could score for a long, long time, and it led to one of the most rugged, defensive minded games the Nuggets have played in a long time. The score at halftime was 42-40 Suns, and several Nuggets players struggled to hit open or contested shots.

In the second half, the Suns started to pick up offensively. Devin Booker got going as both a scorer and playmaker, and that gave the Suns a little bit of separation, but Nikola Jokić put the team on his back to close things out. The Nuggets did manage 57 points in the second half, but they struggled to get there the entire time.

Ultimately, Denver shot 47.4% from the field but only 25.9% from three. They made up for it by getting to the free throw line 21 times compared to Phoenix’s five attempts. Still, the Nuggets will have to be better shotmakers on Friday in game 3 if they want to steal a game in Phoenix. Seven made threes won’t cut it again.

Nikola Jokić proved he’s the MVP the night before the ceremony

On the eve of the NBA announcing the 2022-23 MVP award, Nikola Jokić reminded everybody just how important he is to his team.

39 points is one thing. To take 30 shots and go 17-of-30 from the field, 2-of-6 from three, and 3-of-4 from the line when your running mate isn’t performing is extremely impressive. Jokić wasn’t at his best to begin this series in attacking Deandre Ayton, but he had to tonight, going right through that brick wall for layups, turnaround jumpers, spot ups, and more. Jokić was absolutely in his bag tonight as a scorer and could have put up more points if need be.

“I love an aggressive Nikola Jokić,” Malone declared.

Adding to the scoring is the rebounding, playmaking, and defense. The rebounding is self-explanatory with 16 rebounds, three on the offensive end, and outworking Ayton constantly. Playmaking didn’t show up big tonight with just five assists, but he had a clutch pass to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for three in the middle of the fourth quarter that was a great read on the short roll.

On top of the offense, Jokić isn’t being taken advantage of defensively anymore. He’s hustling on the blitz coverage, contesting on the perimeter, and getting back to his man before Ayton can make a full impact in the middle of the floor. Jokić covering as much ground as he is, paired with the elite rotations from the Nuggets defense, has Denver in a great spot defensively. Through two games, The Nuggets defensive rating with Jokić on the floor in this series is 103.4, which would have lead the NBA during the regular season.

He’s rising to the moment in every category, which is something an MVP is supposed to do. Of course, Jokić won’t be taking part in those festivities tomorrow when the trophy will most likely be handed to Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Jokić doesn’t need that validation anymore. He and the team need a ring. If these playoffs are any indication, he’s in a good position to do just that.

The Nuggets survived a really bad Jamal Murray night

It wasn’t a great night from Jamal Murray on Monday, scoring just 10 points on 3-of-15 from the field and a ghastly 0-of-9 from three-point range.

The Suns were a lot more physical with Murray at the point-of-attack. They blitzed almost every pick and roll, bumped him constantly, ran him through screens on the other end, and ultimately tried to wear him out completely. It almost worked for a win for the Suns, but it definitely worked in slowing down Murray, who didn’t handle the physicality well from Josh Okogie.

Murray will be better going forward, but this may just be who he is: a player who’s capable of being the best player on the floor most nights in the playoffs while throwing out the occasional stinker. This will definitely be classified as the latter.

“Things didn’t drop tonight,” Murray lamented postgame, then reacted to seeing his box score. “0-for-9 from three bro?!”

The Nuggets are lucky they walked away with a win anyway. Porter also struggled with just five points on 2-of-7 from the field and 0-of-2 from three, so Denver’s second and third options combined for 15 points on 22 shots. That can’t happen in Game 3 if the Nuggets expect to win on Friday.

This was a gritty win from the Nuggets. Allowing 87 points is extremely impressive. It was a rock fight the entire way through, but the Nuggets found a way to collect a win. Their ability to win in different ways is paramount for their success going forward.

Whether the Nuggets can take this show on the road remains to be seen. Chris Paul missed the rest of Game 2 with a groin injury he sustained in the third quarter, and if he’s hampered in any way, it shines a brighter light on Phoenix’s shaky depth. Booker and Durant each played over 44 minutes tonight, so there’s very little more they can give to the overall minute tally if Paul sits.

Murray will be better in Game 3, as will Porter. The Nuggets need to rediscover their shooting on the road, but the great thing about playing great defense is it can travel even if your defense doesn’t. The Nuggets have struggled to play defense on the road, but maybe they can tap into a new gear.

Whatever the case, the Nuggets are in a great position. Any win they can get in Phoenix will be gravy.