DENVER — The Denver Nuggets didn’t just keep their season alive with their 126-121 Game 4 victory. They now see that the Warriors are “beatable.”
After being dominated so thoroughly in the first two games that they left San Francisco simply trying to keep things together, the Nuggets avoided being swept for the second straight postseason and now return to the Bay Area for a Game 5 with confidence that they can extend the series even more if they play the way they did in Denver.
“There is no pressure on us,” said point guard Monte Morris, who hit five 3’s in the third quarter and scored 24 points. “I think Game 3 and 4 has been our best basketball, how physical we want to be, we displayed that.
“Going back there, we see they’re beatable. They’re a helluva team. But when we play our style of basketball and make it tough and make them see bodies — they are going to make tough shots — but we know if we play our brand of basketball and bring the energy, we give ourselves a chance. And that is why I think it is going to be different going back.”
The Nuggets return to San Francisco with a coaching staff and key players who know what it takes to pull off an improbable comeback. Only 13 times have teams come back from down 3-1 to win. The Nuggets, however, did it twice in the bubble during the 2020 playoffs.
“Obviously of all teams in the playoffs, we are probably most comfortable being down 3-1,” head coach Michael Malone said. “Can I say we say we have them right where we want them? No. But we are alive. We live to fight another day.”
Malone the fans for the energy they gave his team in Denver in Games 3 and 4 and then said the Nuggets will need the same thing from them for a potential Game 6.
“I thank all of our fans and when we come back for Game 6, we need the same thing,” Malone said. When a reporter chuckled, a stubborn Malone responded, “What you laughing at?”
The Nuggets said winning Game 4 and feeling like they let Game 3 slip away after losing a lead with three minutes remaining has given them confidence. They certainly feel good about the way their superstar is playing. Once again, they got an MVP-like performance out of the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
Jokic, who took a painful poke to the eye in the first minute of the game, was aggressive from the start and finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Aaron Gordon also had his second straight strong game with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists. There was also rookie Bones Hyland, who electrified the home crowd when he hit three 3-pointers, all from 30 feet or deeper, in just over a minute early in the second quarter to give the Nuggets a 17-point lead.
Hyland, who stands 6-foot-2 and is 169 pounds, had 15 points and seven assists.
Morris also helped set the tone for the Nuggets with a hard foul on Draymond Green at the rim in the third quarter. The two friends, who grew up in Michigan, barked at one another but Morris let the Warriors know he and the Nuggets weren’t backing down.
“We got muscles in the heart,” Hyland said when asked about shorter point guards like himself and Morris flexing muscles.
Hyland said he thought the Warriors were beatable before Game 4. When asked if he still thinks that, Hyland displayed his growing confidence. “Of course,” Hyland said. “We just proved that out there. We go out there and play Mile High City basketball, we can beat anybody. I feel like we have a very unguardable team. We go out there and play our basketball, we are unguardable.”
Denver had a lot of things go its way, such as Green fouling out with 2:05 remaining and Stephen Curry (33 points) missing four of his 14 free throws — the most he has ever missed in a game. Still, Golden State managed to erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and lead 121-119 with 1:21 remaining.
“The fact that we had the lead with a minute and a half left speaks to who we are,” Curry said.
Without Green to contend with, Jokic scored on a layup to tie the game. And then after Klay Thompson missed a 3 and Andrew Wiggins missed a putback attempt, Morris hit a floater. Austin Rivers stole an inbounds lob pass by the Warriors before Jokic helped seal the game by finding Will Barton in the corner for a 3 with 8.3 seconds remaining.
When asked if he uses his experience from the Nuggets’ consecutive 3-1 comebacks in the bubble against the Jazz and the Clippers in this series, Jokic said, “Absolutely not.”
He knows this is a different series against a much more experienced team: one that is saying it has to respond to the Nuggets at home on Wednesday in Game 5.
“We got to go into [Game 5] like it’s a must-win,” said Thompson, who scored 32 points. “We’d like to get some rest before next series and we don’t want to travel back to Denver. We got to come with the mindset that we have something to prove, that it’s a must-win.”