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Why Nuggets teammates want Reggie Jackson to keep shooting

MIAMI — The backcourt that led Denver to back-to-back road victories at Miami in last year's NBA Finals was waiting to get back in the game, waiting to send Heat fans marching toward the exits. Clutch time is where Nuggets starters thrive.

But these two starters decided they'd rather let the backup backcourt do the honors.

After a barrage of jumpers Reggie Jackson, Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went to coach Michael Malone and told him to keep Jackson and Christian Braun in the game. Malone agreed, and the Nuggets continued to pull away for a 100-88 victory that they hope will be important for reasons that transcend their temporary, solitary claim to first place in the West.

Jackson needed a new dose of confidence.

“I went through a crazy crisis period,” he said.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Braun scored seven critical points during Nikola Jokic's minutes of rest to protect a slim lead. Then Jackson took over, scoring from 17, 15 and 26 feet on three consecutive possessions in 1:12 to double Denver's lead and force an Erik Spoelstra timeout.

“I had Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the scoring table during that stretch. And that says a lot about our group,” Malone said. “Those two guys told me, 'Coach, let Reggie go up.' Let CB ride. This group plays well. And part of our culture – because we have a culture in Denver too – part of our culture is selflessness. Getting over yourself. And I think that's another example of how our team always looks beyond the individual and thinks of the collective. Really happy for Reggie Jackson.

Malone wasn't-so-subtly throwing shade at Miami's “Heat Culture” mantra in his postgame comments, but his proud plea for Nuggets Culture was validated by the team's reaction to the heat check by Jackson.

“You could see it happening on the field. That was the coolest part,” Jackson told the Denver Post. “I’ve been playing for quite a long time. The older we get, the more we see a lot of things. You are witness to it. I knew my minutes were kind of up. I knew Jamal was supposed to come on the field. …And then I see Jamal waving to the coach, like, 'Keep him. Let him play.' I saw Pope do the same thing for CB. So it was a really cool moment for CB and myself.

For Jackson in particular, the vote of confidence was revitalizing. In the first 30 games of the season, he averaged 13.2 points on 48.6% shooting, including 38.1% from 3-point range. He led the Nuggets to a handful of wins in November when Murray was out with a strained hamstring. Over the next 35 games entering this game, Jackson shot 38.7% from the floor and 30.9% from outside, averaging just 7.4 points and scoring in double figures just 10 times .

After the Miami win, he went 10 straight games again all season without hitting double figures, but seven of his nine points Wednesday came in the deciding burst.

He says his teammates urged him to make those shots despite the drop in efficiency.

“They want me to continue to be myself. Continue to be aggressive. They've been a little mad at me because I haven't been playing my game lately, Jackson said. “So I started playing aggressively. Even still in the middle of missed shots. I think I had a 1-for-9 night. I was like 1-for-7. But just hearing the encouragement from my teammates… once you have a great group like that – front office, coaches, teammates – who believes in you like that, you can't do anything but start believing in yourself again. So like I said: throw a fit. I had dark days. Difficult days. But having that encouragement made it easier for us to come here and keep pushing, moving forward and living with the results.

Jackson's defining quality is his ability to score one-on-one. There have been flashes in recent games when he makes moves on an opposing guard but simply misses the shot he generates.

“That’s what’s boring,” he says. “I think the reassuring thing is that I can still go to a place and take a shot. So that's always the best part. I think if I can't get a photo it would be a bit worrying. That's probably when you'll have to hang up. …I just know I can still do it. And now it's up to me to move forward, keep going to the gym and find a way to finish the play. So that’s really what I tried to focus on. Footwork. Have my confidence in myself and continue to trust the representatives, to trust the work.

Jackson's rotations have changed recently. He no longer shares much of the floor with Murray, after a series of games in which Malone tried a variation of the second unit that deployed both point guards at the same time. Instead, Justin Holiday fills the extra backcourt spot in this lineup; Jackson replaces Jokic to give Murray a brief rest. That's why Jackson was on the court as a competitive NBA Finals rematch entered the final five minutes.

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