It took just 40 seconds of Sunday’s Game 4 before the Warriors learned of Denver’s resolve.

Golden State’s Draymond Green had dropped Nikola Jokic to the floor with a finger to his right eye. As the reigning MVP lay on the floor in pain, Aaron Gordon got tangled up with Green, exchanging a few choice words in the process.

The tense, chippy exchange earned technical fouls on both players. It also indicated, early, the Nuggets had designs on going back to San Francisco.

“I didn’t like the fact that he poked Jok in the eye,” Gordon said at Tuesday’s practice ahead of Wednesday’s Game 5. “First play of the game, he was chirping, he poked him in the eye. That probably should’ve been a flagrant (foul) right then and there. I’m really not worried about it, man. … We’re not backing down from anybody.”

Unsurprisingly, the burly Gordon said he enjoys it when basketball turns physical.

Now down 3-1, a place Denver is unfortunately all-too-familiar, the Nuggets are trying to make NBA history again. No team has ever advanced after trailing 3-0 in a series. If the Nuggets are to win Game 5 and send their first-round playoff series back to Denver, it’ll likely begin with the same physical intensity Gordon showed Green less a minute into their first elimination game.

In Sunday’s win, the Nuggets converted 17 Warriors turnovers into 30 points. Austin Rivers hounded Steph Curry into a 10-of-23 shooting night (albeit for 33 points), and Gordon helped limit Jordan Poole to only 11 points after he’d torched Denver for at least 27 in each of the prior three games.

For the second consecutive game, the Nuggets were the more physical team, even if late-game execution ruined their chances of winning Game 3. Facing their first must-win situation, the Nuggets fought through screens, mucked up passing lanes, and invited contact.

“I would say our physicality definitely improved from Games 1 and 2 to 3 and 4,” said backup center DeMarcus Cousins, Denver’s best enforcer.

The physicality and aggressiveness, on both ends of the floor, have to travel, he said.

“One thing we did know about ourselves was we were the reason we were losing those (first three) games,” Cousins said.

If the Nuggets were going to roll over, they would’ve tapped out against a healthy Warriors team and entered the offseason following another humbling sweep. Instead, after booking another flight back to San Francisco, the Nuggets proved their intentions.

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Proud of his team and pleased with their resiliency in Games 3 and 4, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said there were lessons that must translate to Wednesday night at Chase Center.

“The discipline and the physicality and the aggressiveness,” he said. “We felt coming home from San Francisco that they were way too comfortable. You can’t allow a scary-good offensive team to run script offense. We challenged ourselves to be a lot more physical on the ball, off the ball.”

If Malone’s said it once, he’s said it a hundred times. He wants opponents to feel the Nuggets defensively, forging into their shooting space and knocking into their bodies.

“(Those traits are) definitely something you can carry over because that has nothing to do with making shots,” Malone said. “‘Hey, we gotta outshoot them from three.’ I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not, but what has to happen is our mindset, our physicality, our discipline, our communication, all the intangibles that go into it.”

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