Nuggets 3-pointers: Michael Wilbon decries Nikola Jokic’s numbers, Warriors put Joker to work and Aaron Gordon stumbles out of gate

Initial thoughts from the Nuggets 123-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of their Western Conference playoff series.

Wilbon rejects objectivity. It’s a poorly kept secret that many of the NBA’s major media personalties have struggled to accept Nuggets center Nikola Jokic’s historic dominance this season. ESPN talking head Michael Wilbon revealed his own issues with the mounds of statistical evidence backing Jokic’s MVP case in a bizarre “old man shakes fist at clouds” pregame rant. “I’m tired of the numbers distorting the narratives. I mean people now have to hide behind numbers or produce numbers to make any argument. He had no more impactful season than (Joel) Embiid. … He did not.” Suppose it’s easier to make that case when you, uh, ignore the numbers.

Where’s Gordon? If the Nuggets are going to have any chance of pulling an upset in this series, forward Aaron Gordon has to be a two-way menace. Unfortunately for Denver, he was a net negative in the first half of Game 1, most notably on the offensive end, where he missed six of his first seven shots, including a couple of awkward one-on-one isolation opportunities. On the other end, the self-labeled defensive leader helped hold “sixth man” Steph Curry to five points in the first half, but two of those came when he was caught sleeping on a backdoor cut — one of several lapses for the Nuggets during a game-tilting 18-4 run to close out the first half.

Putting Jokic to work. From the opening minutes Saturday night, the Warriors made their intentions clear regarding the Nuggets’ superstar center. One, the double teams would be few and far between, but the single coverage physical. Two, many of Golden State’s offensive actions, including countless screen-and-rolls on the perimeter, would put Jokic to work on defense. The cumulative effect appeared to show itself near the end of the second and third quarters, when a clearly gassed Joker struggled to finish around the rim or hold up defensively. The gauntlet has been thrown. Jokic will have to dig deep on both ends over the next two weeks.

And-one

Digging into the bench. The NBA playoffs typically see head coaches shorten their rotation during the postseason. Yet there was Nuggets coach Michael Malone, throwing in five subs late in the first quarter with DeMarcus Cousins, Austin Rivers, JaMychal Green, Bryn Forbes and Bones Hyland sharing the floor. The experiment lasted roughly four minutes of game time before Will Barton came in for Forbes after a timeout. While the Warriors did swing the score by four points, the Nuggets were able to stay connected with Jokic and the starters getting rest on the bench. No doubt Coach Malone will take that every game this series.

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