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PORTLAND, Ore. – Where would the Nuggets be without Austin Rivers?
It’s a question the Nuggets never would’ve envisioned asking themselves were it not for a season — and a backcourt — beset by injuries. Rivers went from sitting on his couch in April to starting in playoff games by mid-May.
“I think it comes down to a need,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said ahead of Thursday’s Game 3 in Portland. “Austin needed a team, and we needed a player. We were decimated by injuries. Austin was out there, he was available. You look at his body of work — he has a real body of work. He’s played in over 45 playoff games. … The timing, the need of it, was perfect on both ends.”
Rivers’ postseason body of work was more than any other guard the Nuggets had on their roster. In the wake of injuries to Jamal Murray, Will Barton and P.J. Dozier, Denver desperately needed capable backcourt production.
In Game 2, Malone played rookie Facundo Campazzo 30 minutes, Rivers 20 minutes, Markus Howard 15 and Shaq Harrison 10. Monte Morris, the only other guard with postseason experience (33 games entering this year), played 30 off the bench.
It’s a tall order for Denver’s inexperienced guards, yet that’s why Malone contends his team can play with ease.
“When you’re playing with guys that I had no idea would be playing for us in the postseason when you started this year, it makes it a little bit more fun,” he said. “And really, the way I look at it is, there’s not any pressure on us.”
Rivers, who finished Game 2 with nine points and two assists, helped set a physical tone on defense and buried two early 3-pointers to get the offense on track in a must-win game. If the Nuggets are to steal either Game 3 or Game 4 on the road, they’ll need more from their most battle-tested guard.
“This is not his first rodeo,” Malone said. “I think it’s just surprising that he was sitting at home as long as he was, but thank god for us that he was available. I think he, Shaq, all these guys that are helping us win right now, it’s just a great story.”