How Nikola Jokic, Nuggets defense stifled the Suns in Game 2
Amit Mann and C.J. Miles discuss Nikola Jokic's elite Game 2 performance vs. the Suns and how Denver's supporting cast stepped up defensively.
- CJ, the 3. Good.
AMIT MANN: Welcome, welcome, welcome. "Strictly Hoops" with CJ Miles. We're excited to be here on the Yahoo Sports YouTube channel. Just so you all know, CJ and I, we do this show on the Yahoo Sports Canada YouTube channel, devoted to Raptors, but we're going to be extending ourselves during this time. We got ourselves a 17-year NBA vet in CJ Miles. So, let's talk about the playoffs, right?
CJ MILES: That sounds crazy.
AMIT MANN: 17.
CJ MILES: It sounds crazy. It's half my life.
AMIT MANN: Yeah.
CJ MILES: No, no, it sounds-- it's amazing to hear it, but at the same time it's like, man, funny stuff, not to get off track. Funny story. I had-- so I've been working with some of the girls at UTSA, the University San Antonio's basketball team, and one of the girls on the team, we were talking about because my brother is an assistant coach there.
And I guess he-- the girl was like-- because I just stopped playing, what, a year and a half ago. Like, I did the G League thing. I had the 10-day with Boston, whatever. She was like, wait, like, last year? I was like, yeah.
She was like, wait, she's like, I thought you were old. I thought you finished playing like six, seven years ago. I was like, wait, what? I was like, what? Like, what do you mean?
I'm like, it's that much of a disconnection from, like, a college freshman to me. And that was like, that's my first real, like, man, you're getting there.
AMIT MANN: We're going to talk about one game on every single video. And today we're going to devote our time to that Nuggets and Suns game. So, the Nuggets win, 97-87. And real strong right off the top, CJ. How did the Nuggets pull this off?
CJ MILES: The first thing we say is Jokic, right? Like, it's the first thing we say. We say the guy who's probably going to be a three-time MVP, right? Even though another conversation for another day. What Boogie Cousins was saying about him being a three-time MVP and being put in a certain place, I do understand that. But we're looking at where we're at right now.
We're not-- maybe it'll change that conversation, but that guy is, what, 31, 32, 17, and what, 5 for the series, right, in the first two games. And he just figures it out, right? Like, he is such a threat offensively.
He shot 48% from the 3 over the regular season this year, which is absurd. Obviously, doesn't take a lot, but that's still every other one. So, you got that aspect of his game coming into the playoffs. Makes mid-range jumpers, passes the ball so well from the mid-post.
Those guys moving and cutting. So, when you're guarding him, you're kind of, like, hands up for the pass, hands down for the pass. Then he pump fakes. He shoots the off foot, running off the glass, whatever you want to call the shots that he takes, right?
And he just creates such this havoc on the defense because you're trying to see him so you can help, but you know you can't help because he's the best passing big maybe-- I mean, clearly in the last whatever amount of years, and he's going to go down as maybe the best passing one ever at some point, if we look-- especially if we look at numbers wise, right?
AMIT MANN: Sure.
CJ MILES: We can talk about the eye test and flash, like, the big Sabonis and all the guys that did it, but like, when we talk about numbers and being effective, he's going to go down as the one, right?
AMIT MANN: Sure.
CJ MILES: But I think he just breaks you down over the game. He scores 26 in the second half. The game, it's pretty much a close game. And obviously, like, you know, you've got Michael Porter Junior doesn't have his best game. Jamal Murray doesn't have his best game. You think about those guys, obviously, it's hard to say that, but you think about those guys making some more shots in the first half, it gives them-- it's even more-- it's even a more different game, and it doesn't have to be a dogfight through the whole thing.
But then we can also say, KD didn't make any shots. So, we can look at it both ways. And none of those guys make 3's for Phoenix yesterday. KD's 2 for 12. Devin Booker has a great game. He's had a great playoffs, 4 for 8.
But like, 6, 4, I don't know what from 3 because the other guys they usually make a couple, Torrey Craig, Cameron Payne, Damion Lee, those guys are all 0-for. So the game's got both sides.
AMIT MANN: That's a problem, man, for the Suns. It's a real problem.
CJ MILES: Especially when you're going to have Devin Booker, Chris Paul, if he returns from his groin injury, and KD doing all the ball handling. You guys, they're committing two to the ball, they're blitzing, pick and rolls, doing these things. You're going to have to make shots, and DeAndre Ayton is going to have to catch and finish.
DeAndre Ayton has a better game yesterday. Those other guys got to make 3's.
AMIT MANN: Definitely. Jokic, you mean-- yeah, for sure. And with Jokic, I mean, like, you're deciding how you want him to beat you, and they're deciding that, OK, we're going to make sure-- and they were very forceful with their defense.
They were really good yesterday, but the amount of possessions where like they do everything perfect, then just like, Jokic turns around, hits a shot from the free throw line, and there you go, right? And that's just the nature of Jokic.
Like, you just want to make sure that if you eliminate the 3-point opportunities from the Denver Nuggets, you have a really good chance, right? You make it a 2-point battle, especially with the Suns when they're not hitting a lot of 3's. The 2-point, you need to make sure you're going with the math the right way. 3 is more than 2. And so if you limit the 2 or 3's, you're in a better spot.
CJ MILES: Because we got to stop him, like you said, like, you get-- so if we're going to go 2 for 2, I got three of the best 2-point getters in the game on my team. So, like, if we're going to play that game, I got more, but like you said, the math works out.
But like you said, I also I'm going to want Jokic to do more work at scoring than playmaking because the scoring is going to make him work harder. You have to do more, then we're going to try to make him guard. We can maybe we can wear him down.
If he gets to just kind of be at that high post and pick us apart, saving the juice in his battery until he gets to turn it on, makes it a little harder. And we know we've seen him in the playoffs get tired.
We've seen it happen before. Like, we've seen it be a thing. So, that's the way I'm going to go at him. I'm going to tell Ayton to be as physical as possible and just make it hard on him. If he scores 40 and we win, I don't care. But he can't have 37, 17, and 9.
AMIT MANN: And he was better. He was better. He was better.
CJ MILES: Yeah, I'm not picking on him. I'm just saying, that's what I would say. Yeah.
AMIT MANN: It's like Monty Williams after the game in game one, Ayton apparently had said that he was a bit embarrassed about his effort. And so he came out and he hustled. Like, man, when your facing Jokic, like, he's going to get his, but just do your best, try hard, compete, and he did that.
And with CP3 now, like, the groin injury really was a factor in this game, but also we're going to see how things go for the rest of the series. When they eliminate that third option, that pick and roll with CP3 and Ayton, you lose that, now you're putting so much more pressure on Devin Booker and Kevin Durant to score the ball.
And CP3, when he went out, like, he was on a little bit of a run himself. He was hitting those mid-range shots. He was making the pick and roll. He was making Jokic work. It was all good. And you could see Ayton now, you're engaging him as well, but they lose that.
And then we see the fourth quarter. Like, I'm looking at the stats now. Fourth quarter, Devin Booker shoots 2 of 8. Kevin Durant shoots 4 of 10. And we've got to give our credit to KCP and Bruce Brown. They were making those guys work.
CJ MILES: Those guys-- those guys have-- those guys have been great, man, for that team. Like, even Bruce Brown offensively has grown so much this year, still making 3's.
AMIT MANN: He blocked Kevin Durant.
CJ MILES: And one of the things he's doing, but like, defensively, he is-- they both, they just make the right plays. They make timely plays, deflections, blocks, even on the other side, offensive rebounds. KCP makes a couple of 3's in a row at certain points in the game.
AMIT MANN: Three in the fourth. Three in the fourth.
CJ MILES: Bruce Brown catches lives, run-outs, whatever it may be. Like, they bring so much to the table energy wise and their energy, their feeding plays, their plays that feed the arena, the team, the morale, like, there are those type of plays. Those are guys that you want to see succeed.
AMIT MANN: Yeah. There was a situation, 86-81, three minutes left, and Okogie had to slip to the basket on a pick and roll with Devin Booker, and he found Deandre Ayton. The next play around, it was cool watching this happen, is that instead, this time around, KCP and Jokic, they switch momentarily.
So now Jokic is covering Devin Booker, but then as soon as Okogie clears out, then KCP switches back, right? And then that eventually led to Bruce Brown getting the block on Kevin Durant, and there's Aaron Gordon, who we got to talk about as well. He's in help position, he's there to offer distraction for Kevin Durant, and then the block happens.
We got to talk about Aaron Gordon, maybe we do it now, that it's incredible that he's now their backup five. He's bringing the ball down the court. He's playing multiple positions. And then there's, of course, the cutting, the slipping to the basket, the rebounding. It's all been very, very good for Aaron Gordon so far.
CJ MILES: He's just grown so much, right? We were talking about it before we started this show. Like, his evolution as super high-flyer, not that he's still not like, you know, Orlando, young, exciting, to like opening up his bag to try to be the guy to try to turn that franchise around, and then adding all these things to his game, and then getting traded and goes to a really, really good team with the guy already, and just learns how to play.
And I think it goes to show that guys will, even with coming from the position he was in Orlando averaging what he was averaging, doing what he was doing, guys will settle into a role to be on a good team to win, if it makes sense because we're talking about a guy who probably could have been an all-star this year. And yes, his numbers could be higher. Yes, but would he be where he is right now? You know what I mean?
And I think that him getting to go that route allowed him to be able to do what he's doing right now, to be like, all right, we're trying to win now. Like, what do I need to do? I got to defend Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, play back-up five. Be a little bit better playmaker. Take my mid-post opportunities when I get them, but it's not going to just be go get yours.
AMIT MANN: Yeah, sure. So Devin Booker, I mean, the fourth quarter I mentioned he wasn't-- the shot making wasn't there necessarily, but before that, very good. He's been good for the entire playoffs. His shot making has been ridiculous. The pace of it, the shifting of gears, the array of ways in which he's hitting shots has been so fun to watch.
But then also on the other side, Kevin Durant, he hasn't really been able to find a rhythm. Like, it's incredible that we're critiquing a player that in game one, he had like 29 points on, like, 60% shooting. But there is still the need that, especially when you lose a game, there is a need, OK, well, what's next, how can we get more out of him?
And fourth quarter, again, as I said, 4 of 10 for Kevin Durant in game two. He seems a bit out of rhythm at times. Like, he's not really getting the ball, the shots that he typically is getting because Devin Booker is that option. And happily, Kevin Durant is being the second option, but it's an adjustment for a player.
CJ MILES: Yeah, I mean, and I think it's more so that Kevin-- I mean, that Devin Booker is so dominant right now. He's so-- he's playing so well, making the right decisions with the ball, even with his passing and the playcalling, and whatever he's seeing on the floor. You see him pointing guys around and doing what he's doing.
So I think it takes-- you can get out of a rhythm a little bit. I think KD's good enough to figure it out. Like, I don't think this is a thing that lasts. I think yesterday-- because yesterday he got good looks, he just didn't shoot the ball really well.
Like, he took 12 3's. He got a bunch of catch and shoot ones that you saw him miss. One of them he banked in. Like, I don't remember the last time I see him off left bank a 3. You know what I mean? Like, a guy like that that's so talented.
And I think you figure it out. And I think they put him in some other positions, maybe get him some-- get him to his spots a little early so he can see a couple of mid-range ones go in and things he likes, and then they kind of like flow into that way because Devin Booker's figuring it out.
Like, he's taking what the defense is giving him. He's got it rolling. So maybe like, they make sure that Kevin's got a little bit things going, and Devin can keep doing what he's doing. And Devin's going to have to play make more in next game anyway if Chris Paul doesn't play. So, it's really going to be on Devin to see.
AMIT MANN: 100%. Yeah, we're going to get to game three in a second. I wanted to ask you about Jamal Murray. And the shots that-- clearly we've talked about the differences in the defense that the Suns were offering is that it was more imposing, it was very forceful. They were eliminating Jamal Murray. There were lots of blitzing. They were taking him out of the pick and roll.
And it got to him a little bit. But in the end, like, the shots that he was missing, a lot of those wide open transition 3's, like, he'll probably hit those in game three, right? That was a rough game for him. But you know, I commend him on his effort in the fourth quarter especially. Like, he found ways to help the team win.
And Michael Malone, the timeout leading into-- the media interview he did leading into the fourth. He said, you know, he's not shooting too well, but I'm confident he's going to find a way to help us win, and he did.
CJ MILES: And that's all you can ask for your guys, right, your top guys. Like, because remember, before the injury, we were on the way to this being Jokic and Jamal. Like, this wasn't going to be so lopsided. Like, he was turning a corner that was showing everybody.
Like, I think I saw a quote from the other day. He said, he's like, I don't know what else I got to do or how many times I got to do things like this for you all to believe in my game. And I'm a believer in his game. I think the injury just set the eyes, the majority, the vast amount of eyes back a little bit, but like the hoopers know, and the people that are locked in to the game and really watch and know.
And you saw over this year how much he came back to being what he was before the injury. You see his confidence growing, and growing, and growing, and growing, and growing. And I think he's a player, he figures it out. And I think that's a thing that's going to have to happen.
For them to go on and win a championship, it's going to be nice like that, and that's the next part of his step, right, because he's such a offensively talented guy. So for him to figure out not making shots, and I'm going make some passes, I'm going to make some plays, set a back screen, do whatever I got to do, that's the next evolution of this thing.
AMIT MANN: He's not going to go 0 of 9 from 3 I think then in this series. So now the Suns, they head to game three. They're down 0-2. You don't know if Chris Paul is going to be playing. I mean, what's Monty Williams contemplating right now? Because the discipline defensively from the Nuggets, like, they know exactly what they're trying to do, and everyone's on a string in that way.
CJ MILES: I got to find a way to get that energy from my second unit guys like we got when Chris Paul went down in the playoffs last time. How to get Cameron Payne playing with a stupid amount of pace, high pick and rolls, just pushing, attacking, guys catching and shooting. I got to figure out how to get that energy into those guys and get them playing.
And granted, we know-- no disrespect, but not the top two guys, they pretty much travel well, but most guys, your bench guys, your second string guys, tend to play better at home, especially they tend to shoot the ball much better at home. I'm not saying there's not any guys that haven't shot well on the road, but these guys, just comfortability wise and opportunities because they come far and few between, the energy's different.
And like you said, we down 0-2 coming home to our crowd. Like, that game three is a beast. And everybody knows this is for both sides. Like, they know-- Denver knows they're getting a haymaker thrown at them, and Phoenix knows they have to throw a haymaker.
AMIT MANN: Definitely. Yeah.
CJ MILES: Because even if they don't win-- if they lose game three and they win game four, still we got to go home, and we're done if we go home. We could be done. So like, this is such a pivotal moment.
AMIT MANN: We're going to see an unbelievable performance from Devin Booker, I'm sure. And Kevin Durant, I mean, I just want to see another great KD performance--
CJ MILES: I think we're going to see it.
AMIT MANN: --in these playoffs. Yeah, I think so too.
CJ MILES: I think we're going to see it because this is a place-- this is a space where great guys respond. This is what they do. Like, we just saw one do it to close out a series. This is what great guys do. And Devin Booker's, he's playing at a level right now, but I think Kevin Durant looking at this thing like, he knows what I just said about the haymaker game three, the pivot. I'm not-- and if I'm Denver, I know that coming home. Like, I think we got to figure out some things to be prepared in case we got to do some doubling or some things for him.
AMIT MANN: 100%. So, CJ, that was a fun one. We will check in with y'all later on this week. I hope you enjoyed it. Which game, I don't know. We're going to find out together, which game we're going to cover. But yeah.
CJ MILES: They're all fun right now.
AMIT MANN: Like and subscribe, everyone, to the YouTube channel.
CJ MILES: Push the button. Push the button, every button you can push to like and subscribe to come follow us, come mess with us, man. We have real good basketball talk. And it's fun, man.
AMIT MANN: This was fun. Thanks y'all.
CJ MILES: Appreciate y'all.
AMIT MANN: We'll see you.
CJ MILES: Peace.
- CJ the 3. Good.