Denver Nuggets Defensive Ace Aaron Gordon Won Over Nikola Jokic and Michael Malone With His Grit

Seconds after soaring so high not even a body blow from 7-foot center Ivica Zubac could keep him from scoring, Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon hung out in the middle of the floor like a free safety, pounced, and stripped Eric Bledsoe of the basketball. Gordon then split two defenders with a perfect bounce pass to a streaking Monte Morris for another Denver layup to finish the somewhat stunning sequence with style.

As it turns out, that would only be Gordon’s second-best moment of Denver’s 130-128 overtime epic over the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the final seconds of overtime, Gordon took a cross-court pass from superstar teammate Nikola Jokic and buried a game-winning 3-pointer. It capped an otherwise brilliant night for Gordon, who racked up 28 points, four rebounds, four 3-pointers, three assists, and two steals. In addition to posting a plus-21 ratio in his 44 minutes on the floor, he provided the perfect support to Jokic. The reigning MVP finished with 49 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists — the final assist sailing more than 30 feet in the air and landing right in Gordon’s shooting pocket.

“I knew the ball was going to come to me because ‘Joke’ makes the right play, the right pass, even in pressure situations,” Gordon said in his postgame news conference as reported by The Associated Press. “He put it on time and on target. All I had to do was catch and shoot.”

It was Gordon’s most cold-blooded moment since he dropped the rap song “Pull Up” that featured a diss track about Dunk Contest voter Dwyane Wade.

Traded by the Orlando Magic, Aaron Gordon got a fresh start with the Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets standout forward Aaron Gordon celebrates after hitting a game-winning 3-pointer against the Los Angeles Clippers. | Isaiah Vazquez/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

Aaron Gordon spent the first 6 1/2 years of his career in Orlando, where he finally helped the Magic end a seven-year playoff drought in 2018-19. However, two of his most notable accomplishments while a member of the Magic was controversially finishing second in two epic Slam Dunk Contests at the NBA All-Star Games.

Midway through last season, the Magic decided to hit the reset button on their roster again. They dealt Nikola Vucevic to Chicago, Evan Fournier to Boston, and Gordon to the Denver Nuggets. It presented a fresh start for Gordon — he shifted from No. 00 to No. 50 — after playing for five Magic coaches in 6 1/2 seasons.

Not long after Aaron Gordon joined the Denver Nuggets, Malone saw the forward’s worth

Almost instantly, Denver coach Michael Malone fell in love with the versatility the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Gordon presented and the selflessness with which he plays.

“If you look at it from a pure basketball standpoint, when we traded for him at the deadline last year, we went 19-6 to close out the season with Aaron in the lineup,” Malone said recently during a pre-game news conference with the media. “A game that we always talk about was on April 1st (of 2021) when we went to Los Angeles and beat the Clippers. That game, we realized that we picked up a young man in Aaron Gordon who could help us on both ends of the floor.

“Now, to have had an offseason and a training camp with Aaron, I think this is the best Aaron Gordon has ever played,” Malone continued. “What he is doing on both ends of the floor for us is really remarkable. What makes it even more remarkable to me is every night he is being tasked with guarding the other team’s best player. And with all of our injuries, we’re asking him to play-make, rebound, and score. It’s the kind of versatility that every coach loves.”

Despite a rocky playoffs, Gordon got a contract extension that will keep him with the Nuggets

Because of an injury in the Disney World “bubble” in 2020 when he took a cheap-shot hit from Kyle Lowry, Gordon played in just one playoff series during his time with the Magic.

In last season’s playoffs, he performed well in Denver’s 4-2 defeat of Portland, averaging 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while making nine of 14 3-point attempts.

However, Gordon and his Denver teammates melted down in the four-game sweep against the Phoenix Suns. Gordon’s playing time got slashed in that series — primarily because he didn’t make a shot (zero of eight) from beyond the 3-point arc.

A Denver franchise that surrendered veteran Gary Harris and promising guard R.J. Hampton in exchange for Gordon stuck by their new power forward. Eventually, they locked up Gordon’s future in Denver by rewarding his selflessness with a four-year, $92 million contract extension, per The Athletic.

Gordon has fulfilled the faith Denver put in him by averaging 14.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists this season while also guarding the opposition’s best player on a nightly basis. At long last, Gordon will get some of the recognition he has deserved as a gritty defender for years. He’s shown that defensive tenacity with the way he’s guarded elite West scorers LeBron James, Donovan Mitchell, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook. Recently, when Westbrook’s repeated attempts to play bully ball were thwarted by the chiseled Gordon, the hot-headed Lakers guard jumped to his feet and confronted Denver’s power forward. Not surprisingly, Gordon didn’t blink.

Head coach Michael Malone said Gordon has perfectly helped Denver support Jokic and weather the losses of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.

“With a lot of guys, when they get traded at the deadline, they want to come in and stand out before they fit in,” Malone said. “What I love about Aaron is him having no ego and going to Denver and saying, ‘They’ve won at a high level without me, and I’m just going to go in and play off Nikola Jokic and my other teammates.’ He’s done that at an extremely high level. We’re just so thankful that he’s here.”

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise attributed.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com

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