Denver Nuggets Stat of the Week: 4/15-4/21

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

In the Denver Nuggets’ Game 1 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, cold shooting was the story. Despite having numerous attempts to tie the game or take the lead in the second half, Denver struggled from the field and from three, finishing 6 of 28 shooting from beyond the arc and 42 percent from the field overall.

However, over the past three games, the Nuggets have been lights out from deep. In Denver’s 2-1 week, the team connected on 46.7 percent of its 3-pointers, which was a driving force in tying up the series ahead of Game 5 in Denver on Tuesday.

Several players stepped up to knock down crucial 3-pointers during Denver’s two wins last week. First it was Jamal Murray, who exploded for a 21-point fourth quarter to lead a Nuggets comeback in Game 2. Down the stretch of the 114-105 victory, Murray hit two tough 3-pointers to extend Denver’s lead.

"I'm really proud of him (Jamal),” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said, following the Game 2 victory. “I just grabbed him and told him to take a deep breath and just go out there and play. It was great to see him have success and step up to close the game out with his shot making down the stretch."

Despite falling 118-108 in Game 3, the Nuggets continued to have success from beyond the arc, as they connected on 15 of 29 from three in the loss. Malik Beasley had a breakout performance, as he shot 5 of 7 on 3-pointers.

In a pivotal Game 4, the Nuggets’ 3-point shooting didn’t fail them, as several players stepped up in the big 117-103 victory. While Murray and Will Barton each connected on three 3-pointers, Torrey Craig was the man of the hour, shooting 5 of 7 from long range in his first-career playoff start.

“I just came out here and tried to play with confidence,” Craig said. “I knew we were in a tough situation and we really needed this win. I just tried to play with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy.”

Craig has been on fire from long range since the All-Star break (40.6 percent in that stretch) and has continued to have the hot hand in the playoffs, as he has connected on 69.2 percent from three.

Besides the obvious importance of being able to knock down 3-pointers at a high rate, the Nuggets’ success from three over the past week has been the perfect counter to San Antonio’s initial defensive strategy to double-team Nikola Jokić (and on occasion, Paul Millsap) in the post.

In Game 1, the Spurs had success limiting Jokić’s effectiveness by sending double teams his way because Denver struggled to knock down open 3-pointers. Since that Game 1 loss, the Spurs have shied away from double-teaming in fear of giving up open 3-pointers.

As the series continues with the always important Game 5 on Tuesday, Denver’s 3-point shooting could very well be the deciding factor in the outcome of the series. If the Nuggets continue to have success from beyond the arc, it will force San Antonio to guard more one-on-one in the post, thus opening up more opportunities for Jokić.

Shooting can mask other deficiencies on both ends of the floor, and as the series continues and the two teams are well-prepared for matchups, game plans, etc., the Nuggets 3-point shooting will be a key for both teams.

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