Nuggets prove they can hang with the Warriors as they force a Game 5

Apr 24, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) and head coach Michael Malone celebrate in the second half against the Golden State Warriors of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets had an explosive second quarter in Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors and took as much as a 17-point lead. But in typical fashion, the Warriors fought their way back and took a two-point lead with 1:21 left in regulation. The Nuggets responded with a 7-0 run to close out the game and won it 126-121. 

“When the game was tied we just stayed poised,” Monte Morris said. “We have been in a lot of situations like that with the game on the line, win or go home mentality. We were really poised on both ends but mainly on offense because it got loud in there so we were just trying to get organized but I think that comes with experience and we showed that tonight.”

Nikola Jokic was in pure MVP form and had another 37-point game. He also added eight rebounds and six assists. Morris finished the game with 24 points and was a walking bucket in the third quarter. He went 5 of 5 from beyond the arc for 15 points. He also hit a big time floater with 33.5 seconds left to give Denver the 123-121 lead. 

“I just told myself I was just going to stay aggressive,” Morris said. “It was just a matter of time. These are the same shots I’ve been shooting all year. I’m shooting it with confidence.”

Denver led for most of the game until the Warriors’ offense started clicking down the stretch. Golden State put together a 6-0 run with 3:31 left to get within three points. The Nuggets knew they had their hands full and took a timeout to regroup. 

“We went to that huddle with just a couple minutes left and we were all just yelling at each other in a positive way like we gotta close now,” Austin Rivers said. “We put in the work last game and didn’t get the job done and so now we’re like come on now we got to get a dubb.”

After the Warriors took the lead on a Steph Curry bucket, Nikola Jokic tied it up at 121 with over one minute left to go. Klay Thompson missed at the other end, giving Denver another possession. Morris hit the floater to give Denver the 123-121 lead. Golden State had the ball now and attempted to inbound it. Jokic was yelling at his teammates from the sidelines warning them that the Warriors were about to lob it and that’s exactly what they did. Rivers intercepted the pass with 31.6 left to give Denver another possession. Jokic came up with it, drove through the lane and found a wide open Will Barton for a corner three. He knocked it down to give the Nuggets the 126-121 win. 

“You get one [win] and it’s just a different level of confidence,” Rivers said. “When you’re down 0-3 everybody is looking around at each other like man we gotta figure this out and then you get one and you’re like ok we can do this. There’s a level of confidence that comes with winning.” 

Earlier in the season, Rivers was trying to figure out his role on this Denver team and on Sunday afternoon it was evident that his presence is felt heavily on the defensive end. He came up with five steals and a huge defensive stop in a must-win game. 

Another guy who stepped up was rookie Bones Hyland. He brought the energy and was not afraid of the big moments. In the second quarter, he scored 11 of his 15 points to ignite a 14-2 Nuggets run and give them a 40-23 lead.

“Fearless is a word that we’ve used to describe him many times,” Michael Malone said. “What a great experience for a young kid. Playoff stage, national stage. Regular season is one thing but you make your name in the playoffs. And I think Bones Hyland’s performance today just kind of showed that he is a tough kid mentally and physically and not afraid of the moment and we don’t win that game without him.”

Hyland knew the past three games he wasn’t playing his best basketball. He made it a point to come out with a different level of intensity and leave it all on the floor. 

“I just wanted to come into this game and be myself, be Bizzy and not let my teammates down,” Hyland said. “Whether it’s scoring, playmaking, I want to let my teammates know that I’m going to give it my all.”

Some other key components to beating one of the best teams in the NBA was taking them off the three-point line and wreaking havoc on their leading scorer. The Warriors were making 17 3-pointers a game on 44% shooting in the first three games of this series and the Nuggets held them to just 12 triples in Game 4 on 35% shooting from that range. Denver, on the other hand, hit 15 triples and went 48% from beyond the arc. 

Golden State’s leading scorer, Jordan Poole, averaged 29 points per game in the first three games on 67% shooting. In Game 4, Denver held him to just 11 points on 33% shooting. Malone credited Aaron Gordon for his defensive effort on the rising star. 

The Nuggets will now head to San Francisco for Game 5 on Wednesday night. The Warriors lead the series 3-1 and Denver is once again in a must-win situation but Malone doesn’t see it that way. 

“All the pressure is on them to close us out,” Malone said. “That’s the toughest game in the series is the close out game. If we play like we did in Game 3 and 4 we’re going to give ourselves a chance once again.”

Malone said their goal as a team isn’t to let the Warriors close them out. Their goal is to try and bring the series back to Denver. The Nuggets are no stranger to adversity and they tend to thrive in high pressure situations.

“We’re not just going out to Golden State to close a series out,” Malone said. “We’re trying to bring it back. Obviously out of all teams in the playoffs I think we’re most comfortable being down 3-1. Can I say we have them right where we want them? No. But we’re alive and we live to fight another day.”

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