The Denver Nuggets have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2018-19 NBA season, earning the No. 2 seed in the West a year after being the odd team out after losing to the Timberwolves on the final day of the regular season.
Denver’s improvement to this year has been nothing short of astonishing, as seemingly everyone on the roster managed to take a step forward at the same time. And still, despite pulling in the 2-seed, Denver heads to San Antonio tied at 1-1 in their first round series, requiring a miraculous comeback in Game 2 to avoid the indignity of dropping both home games.
That comeback effort was led by Jamal Murray, who caught fire in the fourth quarter scoring 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, almost single-handedly dragging the Nuggets back into the game and ahead of the Spurs in that final period. Through two games of this series, the same trend that followed the Nuggets this season has emerged. Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris are going to be their most consistent performers, win or lose, but Murray and Paul Millsap will hold the keys to how far Denver can go.
Of that core group, the play of Millsap and Murray has been the biggest determining factor in whether the Nuggets offense thrives or crashes and burns. When the Nuggets win, Millsap and Murray are uber-efficient catalysts for the offense. When they lose, according to NBA.com their efficiency numbers drop off a cliff, as does the Nuggets’ offense (and defense) with them on the floor, leading to the two worst net ratings, by far, of any of Denver’s core group in losses.