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PHOENIX – When Aaron Gordon noticed a few Suns fans flipping him the bird, he knew he’d done something right.
The Nuggets smacked the Suns 110-98 in their season opener here Wednesday night, exacting some measure of revenge for last season’s humbling 4-0 sweep in the playoffs. Leaning into the villain role he didn’t get to play last year, Gordon said he winked at the offenders.
“Love it,” Gordon said of the exchange. “Need it.”
With 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and one momentum-stifling block, Gordon was a game-changer for the Nuggets. Gobbling up rebounds and initiating on offense, his performance was what the Nuggets envisioned when they reached a four-year contract extension with him in the offseason. And, it’s exactly what the Nuggets need from him in the absence of Jamal Murray.
His devastating block on Phoenix’s Devin Booker may have been the play of the night and it was emblematic of the stifling defense the Nuggets employed in the second half, when they outscored the Suns 59-40. But Gordon didn’t want to take all the credit. As Booker took off down court, with only Monte Morris between him and the basket, Gordon chopped his steps.
“That’s a two-person play, really,” Gordon said. “It’ll go on my highlights, but that’s really chalked up to Monte, too, because Monte, he’s the one that walled him off. Make him step-over, instead of letting him get that dunk. He had to Euro-step and then lay the ball up, so I could just come clean it up.”
Considering what Gordon did to the ball, clean it up would be kind. He smacked the ball high over Denver’s bench, setting off a legion of chaos on the Nuggets’ bench. When the Suns called timeout about a minute later, Gordon was still smiling ear-to-ear.
Porter’s playmaking: Even without gaudy scoring numbers (15 points on 6 for 10 shooting), Michael Porter Jr. had a massive impact on the game. Not only was he engaged defensively, grabbing steals and contesting shots, Porter appeared to add a significant wrinkle to his offensive arsenal.
“I told him that in the locker room, he was out there diming tonight,” Will Barton said of Porter’s five assists, which tied a career-high. “It just shows the growth and maturity in his game.”
One on play, Porter found Gordon in transition for a corner three. On another, he drew two defenders, but rather than take the shot as he’d done in the past, he hit Nikola Jokic rolling down the lane for an easy layup.
“(Michael) made some great basketball plays,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That was really fun to watch.”
Jokic, using his wry sense of humor, used the occasion to poke fun at Porter’s shoot-first tendencies. He expressed optimism that if Porter would see a double-team coming, he’d realize someone was open.
“It’s math,” Joker said.
Respect: The Nuggets know the narratives and the talking points. They know pundits are down on them due to Murray’s absence. And while changing people’s minds isn’t their goal, if that happens as a result of winning, so be it.
Following the win, Malone was careful to say that his team isn’t “consumed” by critics. But some of the slights are so glaring, Malone conceded, that on some level the Nuggets “relish” the disrespect.
“When’s the last time an MVP wasn’t playing on Christmas?” Malone asked.