DENVER -- After delivering their best punch and still losing 118-113 to fall behind 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he told his players they have a decision to make Sunday.
"Are we going to roll over?" Malone said of Game 4 that day. "Or are we going to fight like hell and send this back to Golden State?"
The Nuggets got an MVP performance out of Nikola Jokic, finally got a big game out of Aaron Gordon and were in the game in the fourth quarter for the first time this series. They led 111-109 with 3:20 left in the fourth, only to watch Golden State finish the game, and likely the series, with a 9-2 closing run.
Denver missed five of its final six shots and turned the ball over three times in the last three minutes. Jokic had his best game of the series with 37 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and three steals in 38 minutes.
But the Warriors' defense, led by Draymond Green, held Jokic scoreless in the final three minutes. Green sealed the game by stripping Jokic in the post with 34.7 seconds left and the Warriors up five.
"It's not over," Jokic said. "As long as we put the effort like we did today, we are going to be fine. They are a great team, but we showed ourselves that we can play with them and it can be a really interesting game."
The Nuggets will certainly need another effort like the one they got from Gordon on Thursday night. After scoring a total of 15 points in the first two games, Gordon responded with 18 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while having to guard Jordan Poole (27 points) and Stephen Curry (27 points) for stretches.
Gordon admitted that he felt more like himself in Game 3 but that it was "a little too late."
"Obviously the frustration level is high," Gordon said of how the Nuggets were feeling. "We felt like we should have won that game -- 2-1 is a whole different series. But we are not done yet. All year long we have been a resilient group, and I expect us to bounce back."
Denver has come back from down 3-1 against the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers in playoff series in the bubble two postseasons ago. But without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are staring at being swept for the second straight playoffs series. Last season, they fell 4-0 to Phoenix in the conference semifinals.
"We have a choice to make, come Sunday," Malone said before quoting a lyric from Starland Vocal Band. "What time do we play Sunday? Sunday afternoon? All right. It is going to be 'Skyrockets in flight. Afternoon delight.'
"Knowing our group, we are going to be here for the fight. I know I will be."