The Denver Nuggets have surprised in the playoffs, overcoming the odds against the Spurs and putting together a valiant comeback against the Blazers that could lead to an appearance in the conference finals. The excellence of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris has been key for a young team facing major questions about how its core would hold up. The Open Floor podcast discusses their run through the tough West and Jokic's ability to lead at such an early stage in his career.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: I saw that you wrote that the Nuggets had the most impressive win of the playoffs in Game 4. I said on the last podcast that I just wasn't that interested in that series. That is the final thing that I'm going to be wrong about today because Nuggets-Blazers has been awesome in Game 3 and Game 4. The Nuggets continue to kind of shock the world, I guess.
I don't know if the world is actually paying attention to this team, but every time basketball fans look at them and say, "All right, well it's been a nice run." They continue to come through. So what did you see from them in Game 4?
Ben Golliver: Well, we can tell the basketball world isn't paying attention to them because of how shamelessly Michael Malone is taking to the podium after every single game to hype his team up, sing their praises and go so over the top. If this was a normal team, like Brad Stevens did that... everyone be like, "Brad, you have to tone it down." You're on like a 14. You got to get down to like a six. So I actually award podium MVP to Michael Malone for his consistent energy and optimism and love for his players after every single one of these games. It's just been great to see and kind of hilarious too because he really is over the top. But it's well earned.
Sharp: I think he's probably the funniest coach in the NBA. There are actually a number of decent candidates in that conversation, like Mike D'Antoni is generally pretty hilarious himself. But Malone consistently has one great one-liner per press conference that is A+.
Golliver: And like five minutes of just pure "I love Jokic, I love Murray, we're going to be greatest team ever." It's great. I think he's up against it because everybody wants to overlook them understandably—young, inexperienced, first time in the postseason for a lot of these guys. They've answered every single question I had about them entering the playoffs already. They were playing with house money after they beat San Antonio and they continued to just be incredible. Coming back from a four-overtime loss on the road in which your main player plays 65 minutes. I was at the game the other night and I asked a bunch of media reporters. I was like, "Did you guys see Nikola Jokic eat that steak burger on the bench after the third overtime." And there was people who thought I was serious because that's where the perception about him is, right? Out of shape, he's not going to be able to do it. To me Jokic has been one of the five most impressive players across these playoffs. Period. Full stop.
Sharp: Just no very clear though, I want to believe that he does stuff like that on the bench. I'm not ever deriding Jokic when I call him out of shape. I'm celebrating him. Because I love that someone as round as Jokic can go out and have 40 and 15 and completely dominate a basketball game.
Golliver:It's incredible. These series have been played on his terms. His passing in late-game situations is everything. Kyrie Irving should watch him tapes, to be honest, in terms of how you set your teammates up for success. A lot of point guards could, and then Murray has just been incredible night after night. The knock on him has been the inconsistency. He absolutely has some low lows, but this guy's been stringing together a lot of impressive performances. He had six straight free throws down the stretch to seal up Game 4. That was no joke at all. I think he told people afterwards that he had done a training session with his dad where his dad would blindfold him and then scream at him while he was shooting free throws to kind of practice for those moments. Well, I guess practice makes perfect on that one, Jamal.
In general it's been a great series back and forth. Even if Denver goes out they've answered every question and they're guaranteed to be in the third spot of every podcast, right? They're always going to be you know kind of the runners-up in the conversations about who are these interesting teams or who's been most successful or whatever else. They're probably still going to get worked by like the Golden State or Houston, whoever comes out from that side. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the matchup issues catch up with them there. But compared to where they were at the start of the season expectation wise or even at the All-Star break or even just coming into the playoffs, they've overachieved every step of the way and they've done it through some really tough moments, dropping Game 1 to San Antonio, gutting out Game 7 against San Antonio, thinking that the whole season was over after that Game 3 loss. It's just been remarkable.
Sharp: And I was a Jamal Murray skeptic and still kind of am a little bit, but he's he was phenomenal in Games 3 and 4. And I think that if you're on the Denver side—I wrote this after they lost Game 1 to the Spurs. This this playoff run they were gonna find out a lot about what they have, because they have all these young guys and it was gonna be pretty telling whether they were able to respond—whether it's Murray, whether it's Gary Harris even Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig—whether they respond or fold. And almost to a man, everyone in Denver has responded and been pretty impressive. And it's been cool to watch. I share the concerns about like long-term ceiling, but who knows where they'll be in a couple of years. And who knows what the West will look like in a couple years, which is probably the most encouraging point if you're Denver. Because if you take away this Rockets five-out juggernaut and the Warriors are more mortal, there's room for the Nuggets to do some damage. So we will see.