Nikola Jokic spun Draymond Green into oblivion, and the Nuggets lived to fight another day.
Facing the improbable task of clawing back from a 3-0 playoff deficit, the Nuggets survived, 126-121, in Sunday’s gripping Game 4 at Ball Arena, battling with the desperation and urgency they promised in the first-round series.
“We’re not just going out to Golden State to close the series out,” a confident Michael Malone said. “We’re trying to bring it back.”
Jokic played like a two-time MVP, pounding the Warriors’ frontline for 37 points on 21 shots and, for the first time in the series, help finally arrived.
Will Barton drained a clutch 3-pointer from the corner with 8 seconds left to all but seal it off of a Jokic assist. Austin Rivers snared one of his five massive steals with 31 seconds remaining, and the Nuggets ran the clock down after that.
“A lot of teams would’ve laid down tonight,” Rivers said.
The Nuggets’ victory ensures a Game 5 in the first-round series Wednesday night in San Francisco.
In the first elimination game of his career, rookie Bones Hyland scored 15 points, dished seven assists and snatched four rebounds to boost Denver’s second unit. Monte Morris saved 19 of his 24 points for the second half, including a crucial floater late in the fourth to break a 121-121 tie with 33 seconds left.
Though Golden State guard Steph Curry managed 33 points and Klay Thompson dumped in 32, the Nuggets finally kept tabs on Jordan Poole, holding him to 11 points.
Morris turned the third quarter into his personal 3-point showcase. The Nuggets’ most reliable outside marksman drained five 3-pointers in the period to help withstand the Warriors’ 37-point flood. The Nuggets couldn’t pull away because Thompson had three of his own in the period.
When Morris fouled Green in the second half, absorbing a hard blow to his body, it was another example of the Nuggets’ gamesmanship. And showing immense trust in their rookie, the Nuggets turned to Hyland late in the third quarter and he more than met the moment. Recognizing mismatches and exploiting windows in the defense, Hyland had two clutch assists to keep Denver’s offense rolling. Up 98-89 heading into the fourth, the Nuggets had 12 minutes to protect the lead.
The Nuggets controlled the tempo for the first half. Their defense was suffocating, limiting the Warriors to just 26% from the 3-point line and forcing 13 turnovers that resulted in 20 first-half points. Rivers had four steals in 17 minutes checking Curry, and Denver’s physicality and aggressiveness earned them a 63-52 halftime lead.
The game was chippy from the jump. Aaron Gordon and Green drew technical fouls less than a minute into it for jawing with each other as Jokic lay on the ground after getting poked in the eye by Green. The MVP wasn’t fazed.
Jokic powered his way to 22 points on 11 shots, including back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite a crowd that was already buzzing, in the first half. But no one lit the fuse like Denver’s magnetic rookie.
Hyland launched three consecutive Bones bombs to start a raucous second quarter. His energy trickled down to the rest of the team, and the Nuggets showed no willingness to concede the series.