As the Denver Nuggets prepared for Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, they focused simply on the task ahead of them.
They did not fixate on the fact that they are in a 3-0 hole that no NBA team has ever crawled out of.
Denver did not focus on how dominant the Warriors’ three-headed monster of Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry had been.
And the Nuggets didn’t focus on past mishaps or future possibilities.
Instead, the Nuggets entered Game 4 focused inward and what they needed to do to complete on the task at hand. And that task was beating the Warriors to force a Game 5 and push the series back to San Francisco.
As a result, Colorado’s Nuggets bettors now get at least one more game to dissect.
Jokic, Morris, bench led the way
From the opening tip, Denver played with an urgency and intensity on both ends of the floor that netted an early lead.
On offense, Nikola Jokic was masterful as he scored or assisted on all but one of the Nuggets’ first quarter field goals.
While Jokic dominated the first 12 minutes, it was the bench and role players who stepped up in the second quarter.
They helped Denver extend its advantage even further in the second and third frames.
Bones Hyland had three consecutive 3-pointers in the second quarter, giving the Nuggets a needed boost.
In the third quarter, Monte Morris drilled five triples.
Then, with a lead in hand, Jokic closed the Warriors out in the fourth quarter.
By the time the buzzer sounded, Denver had scored 126 points, made 56.2% of its shots, buried 15 3-pointers. The Nuggets even got to the foul line 36 times which led to 29 points.
It all added up to a 126-121 victory for Denver and a plethora of winning Nuggets tickets at Colorado’s online sportsbooks.
Defensive intensity paid big dividends
On defense, every possession was played like it was Denver’s last.
Players were communicating at a high level — one of their biggest defensive issues in the first three games of the series — and giving maximum effort at all times.
There were countless strong closeouts from nearly every player from Jokic to Hyland.
Denver players got into passing lanes, sped the Warriors up, and played with more physicality.
It immediately gave the Nuggets the momentum and allowed them to set the rhythm the game would be played at.
That defensive intensity did not wane as the game went on, either.
Seemingly every time the Warriors would go on a run and put the pressure on, the Nuggets would respond with strong defense leading to offensive production.
The Nuggets’ execution of the defensive game plan was nearly flawless considering their limitations.
Denver forced Golden State into 17 turnovers which resulted in 30 points.
The Nuggets also kept the Warriors somewhat in check from 3-point range. Golden State only hit 12 triples Sunday, and the Nuggets held Poole to only 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
MVP had ample assistance
Denver found a way in Game 4 to help Jokic on offense.
No longer did it feel like Jokic-against-the-world every time the Nuggets had possession.
The likely league MVP had plenty of support, particularly with the 3-point effectiveness of Hyland and Morris.
By the time the game had ended, Denver had four players with at least 15 points.
Of course, Jokic led the way again with his usual well-rounded dominance (37 points, eight rebounds, six assists).
Still, without the help of his teammates, Denver would have been swept out of the playoffs.
Hyland finished with 15 points on 50% shooting off the bench. That went a long way toward helping Denver stay afloat when Jokic was getting needed breathers.
Hyland hit three 3-pointers — all coming in the second quarter — in addition to seven assists.
Morris then got in on the 3-point barrage in the third quarter en route to 24 points on only 11 shots attempted in the contest. For good measure, Morris also dished out five assists.
Aaron Gordon was another story entirely.
Not only did he fill up the stat sheet with 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal, and two blocks. But he did so while asserting his will on the Warriors on both ends of the floor.
Gordon was the main contributor in slowing Poole. He also defended multiple positions and filled in almost every gap the Nuggets had.
In short, AG was spectacular after a tough first two games of the series.
Still, without Jokic, none of this is possible as he was masterful once again.
The Nuggets’ big man got his 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting from the field. He drained three 3-pointers and added six points from the free-throw line.
It was, once again, MVP-caliber play.
… and on to Game 5
For the Nuggets to keep battling Sunday and not look ahead to the offseason after the brutal year they have fought through is a testament to their mental fortitude and resiliency.
Being without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. would’ve been enough to make some teams fold early on.
Those key absences combined with the Golden State offensive buzzsaw would make almost any opposing group mail it in.
But Denver refused.
Now, the Nuggets are on their way back to San Fransisco looking to extend the series once more.
As head coach Michael Malone joked after the win, Denver might be the team that is most comfortable down 3-1 in a playoff series.
It is time to see if the Nuggets can add another chapter to their storied postseason resiliency.