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NBA Finals 2023 – How Aaron Gordon Fitted Perfectly Alongside Denver’s Offensive Hierarchy

MIAMI – Calvin Booth would like to tell you that he and the Denver Nuggets front office planned for a night like Friday when they traded for Aaron Gordon in March 2021. That they would have performed all the patterns and clocked in hundreds of hours of tape on the burly striker and saw something in him that suggested he would be as perfect alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray as he has been.

But in fairness, the Nuggets general manager says, they were just looking to replace the production they lost when forward Jerami Grant left for free agency in 2020.

“We didn’t realize how talented he was,” Booth told ESPN after Gordon scored a season-high 27 points in the Nuggets’ 108-95 win over the Miami Heat to take a 3-0 lead. 1 in the series Friday night during the NBA Finals. “We didn’t realize what an accomplished teammate he was and how much he was willing to sacrifice himself.”

Gordon had a different reputation in his first six seasons with the Orlando Magic than he built as the ultimate star player in his role for the Nuggets.

He was the No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, which comes with expectations of scoring and star power that never quite fit Gordon. He tried to live up to them despite everything.

“Knowing AG now, I get it: he knows what a fourth pick is supposed to do,” Booth said. “But there was no clear hierarchy either. So he looks around like, ‘Is that me? Is that supposed to be me?’ He tries to fill that role but then gets criticized for playing a certain way.”

Once Gordon came to Denver, that all changed.

The hierarchy of the Nuggets had been established for several years. The team was built around Jokic and Murray. Michael Porter Jr. was next as the scorer. What the team really needed was defensive toughness and whatever Gordon could give them offensively.

The Nuggets may not have fully realized it when they traded him after he asked Magic for a deal. But that was exactly how Gordon had always thought of himself.

“I felt like I was going to be a defender for this team, a defender for this team,” Gordon said. “I knew they could score. MPJ, one of the best shooters on Earth. You’ve got a double MVP in Joker who can do it all on offense. You’ve got Jamal Murray who can go up to 50 on any given night I knew I was coming to play defense and make it easy for them.

“I like to play defense. It’s my niche. That’s how I came to the league, with a defensive mind.

“As for the attacking side, it was just about getting in where I fit in, finding cuts, finding openings, finding transition buckets, trying to get some easy ones. , and then just – really just getting in where I fit in.”

Gordon has been a defensive mainstay for the Nuggets throughout the playoffs, regularly defending the opposition’s best offensive player, no matter his size or position. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, opponents have shot just 39.8 percent from the field and 27.1 percent from 3 with Gordon as the primary defenseman in 19 playoff games.

In the first round, he held Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns to 36 percent shooting from the field and 11 percent from 3, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the second round, when he faced Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, he held him to 43% shooting and forward Kevin Durant to 39%. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, he tied with LeBron James.

In Friday’s victory, which moved Denver within a win of their first NBA title, Gordon held the Heat to just 30% shooting and contested 70% of the shots against him.

“I mean, that’s why we got him. He’s a dog. He’s strong. He’s physical. He’s tough,” Murray said. “He brings everyone together off the court and he’s a selfless player. He’s been solid all through the playoffs, all this season, all the time he’s been here.”

While the Nuggets have grown accustomed to Gordon taking on the toughest defensive challenges, it’s still a pleasant surprise considering what they expected when they traded him and the offensive form he was in. he settled alongside Jokic, Murray and Porter Jr.

“You know, he plays a different role,” Jokic said. “He sacrificed himself and that’s why he’s a great teammate.”

Gordon is hugely popular in the Nuggets locker room for his personality and his game.

He is known for wearing his teammates’ promotional t-shirts to practices and events. Not just Jokic’s MVP shirts, but also former Nuggets goaltender Bones Hyland’s shirts.

“He could really win that teammate of the year award,” Nuggets assistant Charles Klask told ESPN.

So when he had a game like he did on Friday, everyone lined up to celebrate.

“He won us today’s game,” Jokic said. “He was our best player on the pitch, and keeping the best player every night is hard work, and maybe he won’t get a lot of credit, but we know what he does for him. our team, and we’re really grateful for him.”


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