Good, bad and ugly: Nuggets even series with crucial Game 4 victory

Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) reacts after scoring against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of game four of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center.
May 5, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) reacts after scoring against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of game four of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets were coming off of one of the most bizarre games in NBA history on Friday evening. Denver and the Portland Trail Blazers went into Sunday evening’s game not even 48 hours removed from the NBA’s longest playoff game in 66 years.

Portland outlasted Denver 140-137 in a 4 OT thriller, where big minutes were played by both teams. Nikola Jokic finished with another triple double of 33 points, 18 rebounds and 14 points, while also playing the fourth-most minutes in NBA playoff history with 65.

Denver went into Sunday’s game looking to avoid going down 3-1 in the second round of the playoffs – and made it happen as they won 116-112 – while showing no signs of fatigue and getting big play from their star players.

With the series shifting back to the Pepsi Center tied at 2-2, I give you the good, bad and ugly.

Good – Denver’s best players step up

Heading into the game there were plenty of questions regarding how Denver would respond.

The Nuggets just came off of one of the longest games in NBA history, where both teams laid it all on the line just for Denver to come up short. Denver was on the road, had never experienced a grueling game like Friday’s, and still endured with all of the momentum on Portland’s side.

Denver responded as they have all season long – with their best players stepping up when they needed them most.

Jamal Murray led the way, scoring in whatever way Portland allowed him to and did not look like a player that just played 55 minutes not even 48 hours prior to Sunday’s game. Murray got off to a hot start and did not slow down there which led to a pretty big night for him.

Murray’s season has been a roller coaster ride of many highs and lows but he has strung together two straight games where he has been Denver’s leading scorer and played extremely well.

In Denver’s 4OT thriller Murray led Denver in scoring as he had 34 points in the game. He also had nine rebounds and kept Denver in the game with his hustle. He did that yet again in a critical Game 4 for Denver, finishing with 34 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Alongside Murray was Jokic, who again delivered a sensational performance. The big man finished with his fourth triple-double of the postseason, putting up a stat-stuffing 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

Jokic has very much looked like one of the best players in the entire postseason. He has stepped up and carried the team in various ways and when Denver needs to get going they go through their best player and he has delivered.

Denver will continue to rely on their two best players to continue with their stellar play if they plan on advancing to the next round. The Nuggets have now evened up the series and as long as the duo is playing like this, the Nuggets will be difficult to beat.

Bad – Curry catches fire

With all of the focus and energy geared towards attempting to slow down Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum it has been the others that has stepped up for Portland to punish Denver.

Last game it was the Rodney Hood show as the wing reserve came in and made and immediate impact in the game. Hood gave solid production off of the bench to help ensure the victory as he finished with 19 points and hit timely shots to help Portland in the victory.

This game it was Seth Curry that caught fire and nearly stole the show in the first half.

Curry outscored Denver’s bench by himself in the first half alone, as he went into the intermission with 16 points, including a buzzer-beater to give Portland a six-point edge. Curry was able to get a few decent looks at the rim and capitalized early on as he found his rhythm and made his presence felt.

Curry finished with 14-of-16 points in the second quarter and set the tone early offensively for the Trail Blazers to give Portland a six-point edge going into the second half on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Denver was able to corral Curry for the remainder of the game, though, and made sure to keep a man on him and not give him those same looks that was falling early. But for an entire frame, it looked as if he was going to be the Curry brother that would be talked about winning the game.

Denver will have to not only get better bench production from their own second unit but also have to find a way to defend the Portland bench unit better. If not, Denver risks the fear of allowing another Portland X-factor be the reason that their season comes to an end.

Ugly – Bench unit struggles again

One of the most consistent parts of the Nuggets early on in the season was the play of the bench.

Lately, they have been one of the downfalls for Denver as they have not been able to get it going or find any rhythm on both ends of the court.

They have not defended well and have allowed runs and on top of that are having a difficult time scoring themselves.

Will Barton was not efficient with his scoring but finished with 11 points off of the bench and again had some big-time shots. Barton knocked down two timely 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, but other than that it was not a good game for Denver’s reserves.

Malik Beasley went 2-of-6 from the field for six points, Monte Morris went 1-of-6 from the field and only scored one basket, and Mason Plumlee had one of his worst games of the series with a plus-minus -16.

With Denver coming off of a physically grueling game it would have been great to see players from the bench step up and insert energy and fresh legs in the series. However, that did not happen and has left Malone having to leave his starters out for longer stints. With the series shifting back to Denver, the reserves will have to get back on the right track and show why Denver’s depth was one of their biggest weapons throughout the season.

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