PORTLAND, Ore. – In the moments after Denver’s gripping Game 3 win over Portland on Thursday night, Nuggets coach Michael Malone got a text from none other than Jamal Murray.
The team’s star point guard remained in Denver rehabbing his torn ACL, but he couldn’t remove himself from the excitement of Thursday’s win, which gave the Nuggets a 2-1 series lead ahead of Saturday’s Game 4.
On the bus ride back to the hotel, Malone called Murray to revel in the win.
“Hearing how excited and pumped up Jamal was, for us, his teammates, the team and how proud he was, it was really a great moment,” Malone said. “It made me think, yeah, we’re fighters, we get under people’s skin, but we have a tremendously close-knit group. Jamal’s back in Denver rehabbing. He didn’t make the trip to Portland. Some guys in that situation would feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not part of it, I’m not there.’ He was on cloud nine. I could feel his emotions, his excitement for the team. I love that about our group.”
The enjoyment Malone got out of sharing the win with Murray, though several states away, was similar to the feeling the Nuggets got in watching Austin Rivers seize his moment in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter that Rivers only recently joined the Nuggets. The excitement from guys on the roster was palpable, on the bench, heading into timeouts and during postgame interviews.
“We all take great satisfaction watching him have the game that he had, and knowing, as I told our team after the game, that he was sitting at home for two and a half months,” Malone said.
Aaron Gordon, whose role was magnified in Game 2 when he switched onto Damian Lillard to start the second half, said there’s a belief that production can come from anywhere on the roster.
“You never know whose night it’s going to be,” Gordon said. “You got (Nikola) in there who’s doing it every single night, day in and day out … You don’t know where it’s going to come from, but you know it’s going to come from somewhere.”
In the 120-115 win, the Nuggets enjoyed huge games from Facu Campazzo (11 points, eight rebounds, eight assists), key shots from Michael Porter Jr., a superlative bench effort and, of course, Rivers’ fourth-quarter heroics. Even two-way guards Shaq Harrison and Markus Howard made meaningful contributions.
In reflecting on why former castoffs or overlooked players have found success in Denver, Malone cited the environment they’ve created in his six years as head coach.
“The ability to empower people is a really powerful thing,” he said. “To give them confidence, to make them feel like they are a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish, to give them a voice.”
Malone said the key is open communication, and showing players that the Nuggets as an organization are invested in them as people and not just players.
“When guys come onto this team from outside, I think sometimes they’re taken aback a little bit because we’re not your typical NBA team, how we run things, how we do things, the relationship from Josh and Stan Kroenke, down to Tim Connelly, myself,” Malone said. “We have a very, very closely connected group.”
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