In a hard fought Game 4 that saw some incredible shooting performances, the Denver Nuggets ultimately came up short, losing 129-124 to the Phoenix Suns.

Nikola Jokić did his absolute best, scoring a career high 53 points on 20-of-30 from the field. He was unbelievable the entire night and kept Denver in this game while the rest of the team struggled to contribute efficiently. Jokić added 11 assists and was a +2 in a game the Nuggets lost by five points. Jamal Murray had 28 points and seven assists, but he once again shot relatively inefficiently due to a lack of three-point makes.

Devin Booker and Kevin Durant combined for 72 points on 25-of-37 shooting. Each scorer had it going at different points throughout the game, and the Nuggets defense simply had no answers for the dynamic duo. The Suns also shot 13-of-29 from three-point range as a team (44.8%) including Landry Shamet’s 5-of-7 from three. His clutch baskets in the fourth quarter were backbreakers for Denver’s rotating defense.

The Nuggets have now lost two games in a row in this series and face their first serious bit of adversity in these playoffs. How they handle it may determine the entire future of the franchise.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Suns in Game 4:

Nikola Jokić is unbelievable

It stings that Joker’s game happened in another losing effort, but 53 points and 11 assists from your center is absolutely unfathomable.

From the beginning of the night, it was clear that Jokić had it going scoring wise. Whether he was going against DeAndre Ayton, Jock Landale, or others on a switch, Jokić was looking to score constantly. He was hitting everything too, going 20-of-30 from the field, 2-of-4 from three, and 11-of-13 from the free throw line. Some of the and-1 shots and floaters he hit in the lane were absolutely absurd. His touch at his size is out of this world.

Denver’s defense is always going to be a little compromised with Jokić out there because he’s a slow-footed seven footer trying to protect the rim. In terms of an offensive game, the NBA has never, ever seen anything like Jokić before. He’s a dynamic scorer from all three levels, leverages the defense to his will, and focuses on making his teammates better. When he has to, he can go into this aggressive mode, and this was the most aggressive and dominant form he’s ever had in his career.

The Suns nearly lost it at the end because Jokić was so good.

There’s also this though. Jokić got into in altercation with Suns owner Mat Ishbia late in the second quarter. There’s a (small) possibility that the league could take action. If that were to happen and it cost Denver a game in this series, that would be the dumbest thing they could possibly do.

Devin Booker and the Suns have solved the Nuggets defense

Unfortunately, the Suns didn’t actually lose, and they maintained their lead because they couldn’t be stopped scoring wise. The aforementioned Booker and Durant were unbelievable, but it really was Booker who set the tone early and often. He was just as good (if not better) than Jokić at points throughout this game, shooting over, around, and through Denver’s defense. When the Nuggets couldn’t live with his scoring anymore, they sent hard double teams, and Booker simply made the right pass ahead of the defense to shooters that knocked down shots.

Durant took over in the fourth quarter as the primary scorer. He shot 11-of-19 and was 2-of-4 from three-point range, on top of 12-of-13 from the free throw line. It was a classic Durant performance, who got to his spots in the mid-range and could not be denied, shooting over the outstretched arms of Denver’s smaller players and making the Nuggets pay.

In the end though, the Nuggets were undone by Landry Shamet of all people, who made 5-of-7 threes tonight and canned several of them in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets knew they had to live with Shamet threes, and he made them pay the price. 19 total points for Shamet, who didn’t record any other stat outside of one foul.

How do you respond to adversity?

The series doesn’t start until the home team loses. At least, that’s the old adage. Denver won the first two games at home, and Phoenix won the next two games at home. That’s honestly to be expected, though it doesn’t come with the added context of Denver being as dominant as they were through those first two games and Chris Paul going out. The Suns have simply relied more on Booker and Durant, and that’s been a great option for them.

Michael Malone said postgame that the Nuggets will need to look at what they are doing with their rotation and their strategy and make the necessary changes for Game 5. The Nuggets have made small tweaks to their style and rotations throughout these playoffs, but they’ve mostly played the same eight guys. In his last two games, Jeff Green is a -36, the lowest on the team. That might be an area where the Nuggets look to change things up.

But in the end, it’s primarily about the group the Nuggets have on the court between their five starters and Bruce Brown. That group just has to be better as a unit, playing better, more connected defense and making the necessary plays offensively. Jokić is clearly ready to go, but he hasn’t had enough help around him. Murray may be giving him some help offensively, but it’s probably not the right kind of help. Murray’s defense has also been flat out bad in Games 3 and 4. Porter needs to have a game this series, and unfortunately, he just hasn’t contributed at the level the Nuggets have needed on either end.

How does Denver respond to adversity? This is where champions are forged, and where lesser players crumble.


Game 5 will likely decide the series. Historically, when a series is tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 wins the series at an extremely high rate. It’s not impossible to win Games 6 and 7, but for a series that’s already this even it’s difficult to overcome.

The Nuggets need their role players to show up at home. That didn’t really happen on the road, and it cost Denver Games 3 and 4. If the Nuggets want to actually win this series, they’re going to need a Michael Porter Jr. game. They may need a Bruce Brown game. They probably need another Jamal Murray game, at least one that’s more efficient and effective.

The stakes just mounted ten-fold for the Denver Nuggets when it felt like they were on the precipice of a Western  Conference Finals appearance. Now, they’re back to fighting for their playoff lives again.

Final Rotations