So much for the unstoppable Denver Nuggets offense with Michael Porter Jr. as a starter. After being held to only 105 points in Game 2 of their first round series against the Utah Jazz, they didn't even hit 90 in a 124-87 loss in Game 3. Now trailing 2-1, they'll have to go back to the drawing board on both ends of the floor if they plan to keep up with the suddenly surging Jazz, who got a major boost in the form of Mike Conley on Friday.
Conley, playing his first postseason game with the Jazz on Friday, hit seven of his eight 3-point attempts on his way to a game-high 27 points. Rudy Gobert chipped in 24 and 14 rebounds of his own. Now Denver has only two games to figure out a way around this surprising Jazz juggernaut. Their offense could still come around, but their defense is in do or die mode.
Here are the three most important takeaways from Game 3.
1. James Harden makes fools of us all
We've spent the past two years making jokes about what the Rockets do to the Jazz, and fundamentally, those jokes have been at Rudy Gobert's expense. Houston dragged him away from the paint and made him look mortal, and that, in the space-and-pace era, made him a fundamentally less valuable playoff player.
But maybe James Harden just warps the court in such a way that players like Gobert struggle in that matchup and only that matchup. Sure, winning the Western Conference is usually going to involve playing against Harden or Stephen Curry, but what we're seeing somewhat definitively in this series is that Gobert can be a spectacular playoff player. The Nuggets took 11 free throws all game, most of which came in garbage time because they were terrified of attacking Gobert at the basket. They were outscored by 16 in the paint. Gobert has his limitations as a player, but Denver's spacing should have been capable of exploiting it. That it hasn't suggests that Gobert has either improved or that we were wrong to dismiss his playoff potential in the first place.
2. Denver's cost-cutting is coming back to haunt them
Denver moved Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez for a first-round pick at the trade deadline largely because both are headed for restricted free agency this offseason. Beasley and Hernangomez proceeded to shine with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Denver is now missing Gary Harris and Will Barton. They could really use strong shooting wings right now, but the two that should be filling in for them now play for the Timberwolves. Nobody could have predicted what has ultimately happened, but the basketball gods frown on cost-cutting. It's coming back to haunt Denver now.
3. We might've jumped the gun on this whole Michael Porter Jr. thing
Michael Porter Jr. is going to be a star one day. But a few games played under weird circumstances shouldn't have fundamentally altered the consensus opinion about the Nuggets in the way that Porter's breakout seemed to. He is still a rookie. Rookies can rarely defend in the playoffs, and the Jazz have absolutely abused him on that end of the floor. He could make up for that by scoring 30 every night, but most rookies don't do that either. Porter has fallen back down to Earth in an entirely predictable way, and while he's going to be a very valuable player for a long time, the thought that he could be such a player in the playoffs right away was a bit too optimistic.