Aaron Gordon gets his statement performance to put the Nuggets on the brink of a title

Aaron Gordon was 11-of-15 (3-of-4) from the field for 27 points, along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

Miami – Six full seasons with the Orlando Magic, five different head coaches. In fact, Aaron Gordon lost count when talking about his NBA roots earlier this week, just days before Gordon took a 3-1 lead in the 2023 Finals with a 108-95 victory in Miami. .

Gordon, the Nuggets’ lanky 6-foot-8 power forward, upped the number by one, but who could blame him? Add Sean Miller from Gordon’s single season at Arizona and his coaching at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, Calif., a decade ago, and he played the game under seven different coaches in eight seasons.

Gordon tried to put a positive spin on all the changes, but he knew the instability in Orlando was too great. “I get to pick the brains of brilliant coaches once a year,” he said, “but still, I get to pick little pieces from Jack Vonn, [James] Borrego, Frank Vogel, Steve Clifford, Scott Skiles. I hope I haven’t missed anyone.

Gordon hopes to never have to go through that again. Since being traded to Denver in March 2021, that’s the amount of continuity that has kept them all within one win of a championship, one team, one coach for him and the Nuggets.

Notable of the night: Aaron Gordon | June 9

Michael Malone is Denver’s past, present and future, eight years into his current job to qualify as the league’s fourth-longest-tenured coach. That’s the kind of stability Gordon has abandoned, his first chance to slip into a role big enough to own it.

„He’s already had a foundation where he’s been playing for three years, four years, five years. I’m not even sure how long,” Gordon said. „The biggest thing was being able to come in and be myself. They told me from the jump, 'We got you for a reason. Be yourself and everything will be fine.

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It works. Gordon’s 27 points on Friday led all scorers, as did his plus-29 rating. That said, Denver was outscored by 16 points sitting at 6:18, whipping-worthy and the numerical evidence confirmed all the eye tests.

Gordon scored 15 in the second quarter and nine more in the third to help outscore the Heat 66-52 through two middle quarters. They came up short against Miami’s increasingly aggressive defense and quelled a scare when Nikola Jokic went to the bench with 5:14 left in the final quarter.

Aaron Gordon broke his 27-point performance in Game 4 for the Nuggets.

„That’s why we got him,” guard Jamaal Murray said. “He’s a dog. He is strong. He is the body. He is tough. He is cool. He brings everyone together off the court and is a selfless player.

Gordon shadowed Miami’s Jimmy Butler for much of the series, a regular duty guarding the opposition’s biggest threats. He serves as Denver’s „small-ball” center in non-Jokic minutes, which has often gone the Nuggets’ way in the postseason (Malone considered them a „crapshoot” during the regular season.)

„He brought his hardhat tonight,” Malone said.

Given Orlando’s low NBA profile over the past decade, the 2016 All-Star Weekend in Toronto featured Dunk Duelist Vs. Many fans may still know Gordon better as Zach LaVine. Their rivalry, arguably the best in the history of the event, produced some of the most inventive, breathtaking throwdown maneuvers in basketball history.

But that’s not much of a part of Gordon’s day job. He averaged 12.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 28.6 minutes in 428 games with the Magic — not bad, but not necessarily what some expected from the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft (after Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid).

Aaron Gordon made his mark in the NBA Finals with basketball IQ and athleticism

He accepted in Denver expecting his primary role to be as a defender. However, it didn’t take long for the Nuggets and him to see how Jokic’s extraordinary vision and passing, combined with Murray’s athleticism, could open up opportunities for Gordon offensively.

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„Even in the first game,” Gordon recalled, „it was like a breath of fresh air, because it was like the first time I cut back and then it was like an easy dunk. There was so much going on the floor, so much spacing, and everyone seemed to complement each other so well.

These days, he’s one of the quickest and surest-handed alley-oop finishers in the league. Almost nothing seems out of reach for him, and he can go forward and flip the ball backwards. No matter where he comes down with it, Gordon can twist and bend his way no matter where a defender is.

In Game 4, Gordon took 15 shots and scored 11 runs. That included 3-for-4, including a sassy shot from in front of the Heat bench that put his team up 86-73 through three quarters.

He made Miami pay once the Finals began, and coach Erik Spoelstra took advantage when he switched smaller defenders to him for some statement buckets. As much as possible, he didn’t bite on Butler’s pump-fakes, helping keep Miami ahead by single digits in free throw attempts.

When the Heat repeatedly flashed Murray in pick-and-roll action, Gordon heeded some reminders from Jokic, giving Murray an outlet to relieve pressure.

Aaron Gordon led Denver with 27 points in Game 4.

Malone has said multiple times this series that the Nuggets aren’t the place for specialists — who expect everyone to do too many things — and Gordon exemplified that in Game 4.

„If you sacrifice yourself for something bigger than yourself, the team,” Jokic said, „I think that’s why the guy on the floor gave him the game he had. He’s our best player on the floor. It’s hard work to guard the best player every night, and maybe he’s not going to get a lot of credit. But we know what he does for our team.

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Gordon says he looks up and down Denver’s roster, an unselfishness that’s at its peak right now, as the Finals shift into mile-high territory.

„It’s very rare. It’s a blessing,” he said. „It’s great to play with them. … They’re very passionate about basketball and they understand that you have to keep the energy on the ball, and if you play the right way, everything will work out.

Fittingly, he said late Friday, „It was nice to know that I can be myself, and that’s enough. I don’t have to be more or less. I just have to do what the team asks of me, sometimes it’s scoring, sometimes it’s rebounding, sometimes it’s being the best player.” Defends, and sometimes it makes plays.

„It might be different on any given night, but every night I’ll be myself.”

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Steve Ashburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and Follow him on Twitter.

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