Monte Morris was five minutes into his news conference with media members when a jubilant scream erupted from the Nuggets’ practice court.
Team president Tim Connelly had drained an underhanded shot on a side hoop some 50 feet away to cause the commotion. Amid the reaction, Connelly was dismayed that his improbable bucket wasn’t caught on camera.
Facing elimination heading into Sunday’s do-or-die Game 4 against the Warriors, the Nuggets weren’t caught up in the daunting challenge of winning four in a row against a team with championship aspirations. Instead, they were free and loose, comfortable in the underdog role without the burden of expectations.
“No one was defeated,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “No one was in here feeling sorry for themselves.”
Before Morris’ session with reporters began, even Jamal Murray kept it light. Hovering around the outer edge of Morris’ media scrum, Murray declined to ask a question but said he would linger just to mess with his teammate.
Morris was unfazed and reiterated that the series wasn’t over. After nearly stealing Game 3, Morris didn’t balk when he talked about getting on the plane back to San Francisco in the event of a Game 5.
“That’s our goal, that’s our agenda,” he said.
The energy was a result of how closely the Nuggets played the Warriors in Game 3. A productive film session reinforced their marked advantage on the glass last game (44-30) and how the little things – fourth-quarter turnovers and one crucial missed box-out – were enough to tip the game. Had the Nuggets capitalized on their transition opportunities and second-chance points, Malone said, they likely would be trailing just 2-1 in the series.
Unwilling to concede anything, Malone’s preparation stayed the same. There was a film session followed by an easy, low-intensity practice. No drastic changes seemed imminent with their starting lineup, though Malone did say he might try to find another spark off the bench. Understanding the situation, he did his best to exude positivity.
“While you’re fighting for your life, smile and enjoy it,” Malone said.
Not even an overwhelming 3-0 deficit could suppress Bones Hyland’s infectious energy. Always upbeat, he was among the most relaxed players at Saturday’s practice.
“Ain’t no pressure,” Hyland said. “All the pressure’s on them.”
While watching film of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole carve apart Denver’s defense from the 3-point line, it became apparent to Hyland that that’s how the Nuggets need to play to extend the series. He said he could tell their chemistry based on how unselfish and freely they swung the basketball.
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Their celebrating and “swag” – to use Hyland’s word – has been the opposite of Denver’s disposition throughout the first three games.
“The past week, everybody was so tight,” Hyland said.
But facing the prospect of a second consecutive sweep after last’s year ouster to Phoenix, Hyland said there’s a different emotion at play, too.
“Going into this one, we have to win a game just to show our pride,” he said. “This is a pride thing for us.”