Nuggets face daunting deficit; Jokic faces ignominious exit

Sports

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, back left, argues for a call with referee Ben Taylor, front, as Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul listens during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA second-round playoff series Friday, June 11, 2021, in Denver. Jokic was called for a technical foul. Phoenix won 116-102. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Four NHL teams have overcome 3-0 deficits in a best-of-seven playoff series, including the 1942 Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs. The Boston Red Sox pulled off MLB’s only such comeback against the New York Yankees in 2004.

The Denver Nuggets are the 143rd NBA team to go down 3-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series and nobody’s ever overcome such a daunting deficit to win four straight.

The Nuggets say their only aim is to send the series back to Phoenix with a win in Game 4 Sunday night in Denver.

“The last thing I want to see is the Phoenix Suns pushing a broom across our home court,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Friday night after Denver’s 116-102loss to the Suns.

Malone has said all along the Nuggets could show growth this season after losing a year ago to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

“We have had a tremendous season, tremendous. I said going into this year you can’t judge a season by the end result. … But the one thing I don’t want is for us just to go out quietly into that good night,” Malone said. “I hope we show some real fight and resolve and force this series to go back to Phoenix for Game 5.”

If not, Nikola Jokic will become the first MVP to get swept in a playoff series since the league adopted the best-of-seven format for all rounds beginning in 2003.

“We just need to go out there and fight and give everything we’ve got,” Jokic said.

Only three MVPs (Steph Curry in 2015, LeBron James in 2012 and ‘13 and Tim Duncan in 2003) have won it all since 2003 when it’s taken 16 playoff victories to raise the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

Curry came up just short again in 2016 when James led the Cavaliers to a Game 7 win in the NBA Finals. Since then, MVPs are just 31-24 in the playoffs with none of them even reaching the Finals.

That includes two MVPs who exited in the first round: Russell Westbrook in 2017 and Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

NETS AT BUCKS

Game 4, 3 p.m. EDT, ABC

— NEED TO KNOW: This series features the NBA’s two highest-scoring teams from the regular season but has been noteworthy for its defense so far. The Bucks scored a league-high 120.1 points a game in the regular season but have averaged just 93 points in this series. Milwaukee scored a season-low 86 points in a 39-point Game 2 loss and matched that total in a 86-83 Game 3 win. The Nets had their lowest scoring output of the season in Game 3. Kevin Durant has led the way for Brooklyn by averaging 30.3 points, 8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2 steals and 1.3 blocks.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Nets guard/forward Joe Harris. His shooting accuracy has been a reliable indicator of how this series has gone. Harris shot 12 of 23 overall and 8 of 16 from 3-point range over the first two games. He was 1 of 11 overall and 1 of 7 from beyond the arc before fouling out of the Nets’ Game 3 loss.

— INJURY WATCH: The Brooklyn Nets again won’t have James Harden (hamstring) but could have forward Jeff Green (plantar fascia strain) for Game 4. Coach Steve Nash says Harden and Green are “progressing well.” Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo is out for the rest of the season after tearing a ligament in his left ankle during their first-round series with Miami.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although the two-time MVP is averaging 28.3 points and 12 rebounds in this series, he has shot just 3 of 16 from 3-point range and 6 of 19 on foul shots. The free-throw issues are somewhat surprising because Antetokounmpo closed the regular season by shooting 72.5% from the line after the All-Star break. He had a 10-second violation on a Game 3 free-throw attempt, the second time that’s happened to him in this postseason.

SUNS AT NUGGETS

Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Suns have won six straight games since falling behind the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers 2-1 in the opening round. Phoenix point guard Chris Paul has bounced back from his ailing shoulder that forced head coach Monty Williams to sit him in the fourth quarter twice against the Lakers. In the fourth quarters against the Nuggets, Paul is 12 for 13 from the floor, including 4 for 4 on 3-pointers with eight assists and no turnovers. In Game 3, he had 27 points to go with Devin Booker’s 28.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Nuggets guard Monte Morris, who responded to a challenge from Malone to be more of a factor in Game 3 after two mediocre performances in Phoenix. He scored 21 points in 30 minutes off the bench and was the only Denver player to shoot 50% or better (8 for 12) besides Zeke Nnaji (1 for 1).

— INJURY WATCH: In Game 3, Nuggets’ Will Barton played 28 minutes and scored 14 points in his second game back from a serious hamstring injury. P.J. Dozier (adductor) is still out. The Nuggets rallied around fallen teammate Jamal Murray, who tore his left ACL on April 12, going 13-5 down the stretch and beating the Trail Blazers in five games in the opening round. But they seem to have hit the wall in this round, showing how much they really miss their dynamic scorer who twice pumped in 50 points in the bubble in last year’s playoff run.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Michael Porter Jr., who hasn’t been the same since tweaking his surgically repaired back just before halftime of the series opener. MPJ went 5 for 13 from the field in Game 3 for 15 points. He’s shooting 36% from the floor and 38% on 3s in this series after marks of 54.2 and 44.5 in his breakout regular season.

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