Nuggets’ Aaron Gordon humbles himself on Orlando’s comeback: ‘This one hurts’

ORLANDO, FL – In the immediate aftermath of his explosion, Aaron Gordon sat on the Nuggets bench, flexing his shoulders and smiling at the devastation he wreaked on his former team.

His poster for Orlando’s Chuma Okeke came with a 3:39 left in the first quarter and directed the entire Denver bench from his seat. They saw his intensity and knew just how much this game — his first game since changing his career to Denver last March — meant to him.

When asked before the competition if he was excited, Gordon said easy-to-answer volumes: “Hell yeah.”

As it turns out, the first quarter was the only quarter in which Denver played any defense. They stifled the Magic’s attack for just 15 points in the first quarter and did well on their way to a second win in their seven voyage. But the Magic scored 93 points over the last three quarters, cooked nuggets in paint and showed pride amid another year of rebuilding. Orlando ended its seven-game losing streak with a 108-103 victory.

With the Amway Center emerging, the Magic players Gordon left behind played with the same intensity and intensity that Gordon brought on on Wednesday night.

“I think so,” Gordon said when asked if he sensed it. “They’ve got some guys in there. They got (Gary Harris), and maybe RJ (Hampton) wanted it to be a really bad thing. Cole (Anthony), Choma, Moe (Bampa). That was a good win for them, a really bad loss for us.”

Up 16 points in the first half, Gordon said the team “felt good” and stopped defending as a cohesive unit. Nuggets coach Michael Malone specifically called out the starting players — Gordon, Monty Morris, Will Barton, Jeff Green and Nikola Jokic — for their unwillingness to play to start the third quarter. Orlando opened on a 12-3 run, and the Nuggets breathed life into their downhill rides.

“It hurts,” said Gordon, who finished the game with 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

Although the loss is painful for Gordon, it should not overshadow his start. According to Malone, Gordon played the best basketball in his life. From its playmaking, to its defensive variety, like a chess piece waiting to be deployed in myriad ways. While averaging nearly 14 points per game on over 51% shots from the field and six rebounds, Gordon also regularly accepts guarding the other team’s best player.

“I have another level to reach,” he said.

When asked specifically where he could improve, Gordon mentioned his ability to tackle the game, his footwork, his attack and his 3-point shot. His constant improvement will be essential to the Nuggets’ hopes of overcoming a string of unfortunate injuries. And if Gordon is right, and has another level to reach, the Nuggets might be able to survive losing wings to Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier.

Harris’s revenge: Former Nugget Gary Harris hugged Malone before the match. He was flirting with Barton, his old friend, at every stop. Barton couldn’t help but smile when Harris shot the ball out of his hands, knowing what kind of stubborn defense he played before moving to Orlando this past March.

Harris finished with 11 points, three assists, three steals and one block.

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