DENVER (AP) — Aaron Gordon isn’t just the Denver Nuggets’ defensive mainstay, he’s their starter.
Gordon stalked Jimmy Butler in one of his worst playoff performances on Thursday night, but it was on the offensive side that he really sparked the Nuggets’ 104-93 victory over the Miami Heat in the first appearance of the franchise in the NBA Finals in 47 years of history.
“Aaron really set the tone at both ends of the court for us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after Gordon smashed his way past smaller defenders in the paint to score 16 points while helping to maintain Butler just 13 points on 6. -of-14 shooting.
Gordon did most of his offensive work in the first quarter, scoring a dozen points on 6-of-8 shooting and pulling four of his six rebounds as the Nuggets shook off a 10-day layoff to win their seventh straight playoff game and improve. at 13-3 in the playoffs and an NBA-record 43-7 at home.
Then he spent the rest of the night making sure Butler didn’t lead the Heat to a fourth straight win in Game 1 on the road.
By the time the Nuggets were serenaded off the field by a raucous crowd, Nikola Jokic had posted another triple-double, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. had double-doubles and Denver sent the Heat to the line just two times all night – unprecedented in finals.
“We always talk about Nikola embodying the culture of the Nuggets, and I think Aaron Gordon is a great example of someone who’s really selfless,” Malone said. “He understood that with Jamal and Michael returning this year healthy, his role was going to change. He never fought him once. He embraced him from day one of the season and went there, whether it’s keeping Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and now obviously keeping a guy like Jimmy Butler.
“He does a lot of the dirty work for us, and he often doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
Malone awarded the team’s chain of games defensive player to Gordon, who, of course, deflected the kudos.
“Well, it really is teamwork. I think Defensive Player of the Game could have gone to Michael Porter as well. He really strengthened his defensive side,” Gordon said. “We change a lot. Everyone helps. We are decreasing. We’re delaying for the stuntman. It’s not just a 1v1 game. I’ve been saying that all week. It’s a team effort to slow down this guy (Butler).
Gordon had 14 points and five boards by the time the Nuggets entered their locker room with a 59-42 lead at the break. It marked the biggest Game 1 halftime lead in the Finals since the Celtics took a 79-49 halftime lead over the Lakers on May 27, 1985, in a 34-point rout. which has been dubbed the “Memorial Day Massacre”.
Gordon was the Nuggets’ best defenseman in the playoffs, doing a commendable job on Towns, Durant and James in helping the top-seeded Nuggets reach their first NBA Finals.
Yes, James scored 40 points in the Nuggets’ deciding fourth game in the final round, but his buzzer-tying shot was blocked by Murray and then blocked by Gordon.
Gordon, who was the No. 1 scoring option in Orlando, played a smaller offensive role in Denver behind his three max-contracted players – Jokic, Murray and Porter – after his 2021 trade with the Nuggets, and resumed this season as MPJ (back) and Murray (knee) returned from injury.
“There’s really no way to describe how valuable he is to our team,” Porter said.
Maybe Gordon remembered D-Wade giving him a 9?
It was surely enough for him to do it in the final but it had to be particularly sweet to do it against the Heat. Gordon lost the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest to Miami forward Derrick Jones Jr.
Gordon thought he had won on his final dunk when he pulled 7ft 5in rookie Tacko Fall out of the crowd and asked Fall to hold the ball above his head before jumping over him and finish the dunk. Three of the five judges, however, scored a nine instead of a 10, handing the title to Jones – and one of those judges was Dwyane Wade.
Gordon was traded to Denver the following season and took a back seat in the Nuggets’ star-studded offense — until Thursday night, when he played at both ends of the court.
Ultimately, Gordon was praised more for his work on Butler than his half-dozen first-quarter field goals that got the Nuggets going.
“I thought he did a hell of a job taking on this challenge to keep a guy like Jimmy Butler,” Malone said.
After extending his NBA record with his ninth triple-double of this playoffs, Jokic also praised Gordon’s play.
“Oh, I love playing with him. I love playing with some – I mean dominant big men, if that makes sense – but the best thing he’s done is accept his role, and he does. really great job,” Jokic said.
“Like today, he succeeded. We had just given him the ball, and he was really good in the paint today. He’s probably our best defender, him and KCP, and just to play defense the whole game on the best player, I think that’s really hard to do.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports