A funny thing happened on the Nuggets’ way to being swept out of the NBA playoffs. They wrestled the broom from big, bad Golden State, and knocked cheeky Draymond Green on his sassy rear end.
On a bad day for Nikola Jokic haters, the once-and-future MVP took a vicious poke in the right eye from Green in the game’s first minute, then scored 37 points in a 126-121 victory Sunday that allowed Denver to stave off elimination.
“It was actually kind of painful,” Jokic said, taking stock of his injury. “I’m not going to lie.”
The best moment of a beautiful spring afternoon when a bandwagon of front-running Warriors fans left Ball Arena crying in their Chardonnay?
It was a skinny-guy flex.
It was awesome to see slender Nuggets guard Monte Morris deck Green with a hard foul.
“I just had to let him know Flint’s a little tougher than Saginaw,” Morris said.
Let me explain.
Morris and Green are the pride of two hardscrabble Michigan towns where rust never sleeps. Morris is from Flint; Green hails from Saginaw and both guys are tougher than bad, bad Leroy Brown.
Midway through a third quarter in which Morris matched Golden State sharp-shooter Klay Thompson in a game of H-O-R-S-E from beyond the 3-point arc, the slender Denver point guard encountered Green under the hoop. Rather than allow an uncontested lay-up, Morris went all Bad Boys on his old friend, knocking Green to the floor with a hard foul.
Down goes Draymond! Down goes Draymond! Down goes Draymond!
From his haunches, Green barked at Morris. Hard foul worthy of a rumble on the blacktop of courts in Flint or Saginaw?
“Nah,” Green insisted. “There wasn’t no blood.”
Morris grinned from ear to ear after bringing the hammer down on his friend, then went to dap Green as the Warriors’ notorious instigator picked his bruised derriere off the floor.
“Something we’re going to talk about,” said Morris, chuckling about getting the worst of a run-in with Green early in this series. “That’s my payback for him busting my lip.”
A year down the road, when the Nuggets hope injured guard Jamal Murray and forward Michael Porter Jr. are both fit, a playoff series between Golden State and Denver would be more of a fair fight.
Every underdog has its day. And this one allowed the Nuggets to flex.
“We got muscles in the heart,” said Bones Hyland, whose biceps are Q-tips. “We’re not going to back down.”
And that’s when Denver could really benefit from the never-surrender lessons taught by the tenacious D of Austin Rivers, the cock-of-the-walk strut of Hyland and the snarling intensity of Boogie Cousins in this hard-earned victory.
In the NBA playoffs, the winner often is the team that refuses to blink.
“If they smell fear, you have no chance,” said Rivers, whose steal of an inbounds lob pass to Andrew Wiggins in the final seconds of the fourth quarter ruined the Warriors’ last-best chance to get out of Denver with a series sweep.
Which side of a half-full glass of Hazy IPA do you want to sip?
While the Warriors are clearly the more talented team, especially with Murray and Porter missing from the Denver lineup, this series could easily be knotted at 2-2 if Jokic had not clanked a short jumper he almost never misses late in Game 3. Golden State better hope Phoenix superstar Devin Booker doesn’t get well anytime soon, because these aren’t the dynasty Warriors.
“We see they’re beatable,” Morris said.
OK, this much is also true: The Nuggets outscored Team Splash 45-36 from the 3-point line, Warriors guard Steph Curry missed four free throws and Green fouled out, all of which were quirky necessities for Denver to win Game 4 by five points. That formula for success is not likely to be duplicated.
Not that the Nuggets care too much about what happens tomorrow, having shown the NBA universe their MVP would not go down without a fight. For the first time in the playoffs, the team gave Denver fans reason to thump their chests with pride.
“I’m just so proud of our guys,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “The thing that was keeping me up at night, aside from my daughters going to a prom, was I didn’t want to get swept. I did not want to get swept. There’s something about getting swept that just eats at your core. I’m thrilled we’re still alive.”
Not to worry, coach. Get a good night’s sleep and rest up for a trip to Fog City for Game 5.
“When we come back for Game 6 … ” Malone vowed to the audience of media scoundrels.
One of the rascals in the news conference room chuckled at the declaration.
“What you laughing at?” Malone said.
These scrawny, scrappy underdogs demand respect.
“When we play Mile High City basketball,” Hyland said, “we can beat anybody.”