Denver Nuggets’ coach says super sub Christian Braun playing ‘at a very high level’

Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone has cited the play of former Kansas guard Christian Braun as one of the keys to erasing a 2-0 deficit and securing a 3-2 lead in a second-round NBA Western Conference playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“C.B. has been great. The last two games in a row I’ve closed with him,” Malone said after keeping the 6-foot-6 Blue Valley Northwest graduate on the floor the entire fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 112-97 victory in Denver.

Braun scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting (1-of-2 from 3) with five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 28 minutes as the defending NBA champion Nuggets moved to within one victory of advancing to the conference finals.

Super sub Braun, who also was on the floor at the conclusion of the Nuggets’ 115-107 series-tying Game Four victory in Minnesota, had 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting (1-1 from 3) in 25 minutes in that contest.

“I think his defense, his rebounding … the hustle plays, his aggression, his toughness, his physicality and I love his confidence,” Malone stated to reporters after Tuesday’s game. “He’s stepping in and shooting with confidence where I think early in the season there was a point in time where if he missed a couple he was somewhat hesitant. But right now C.B. is playing at a very high level.

“That’s a luxury for us,” the coach continued. “If we have a lead and if I have to get a guy in that can guard at a high level and rebound and make plays you can get him out there. Hopefully he can continue to play at the level he’s played at.”

Braun — he is trying to join former Louisville and L.A. Lakers standout Billy Thompson as the only players in history to win a college championship then back-to-back NBA titles their first two years in the league — acknowledged he’s not lacking in belief he can do the job when called upon.

Playing 28 and 25 minutes back to back in must-win games would be evidence of his importance to the squad.

“I think I’m always pretty confident,” Braun said Tuesday in the winner’s locker room. “I think the guys have done a good job — whether I’m playing a lot or not playing — of keeping me in the right spots mentally and encouraging me.

“What I do doesn’t take too much confidence. It’s not hard to play defense. It’s not hard to make an effort each and every play. It’s not hard to speak up and try to lead a little bit. Those aren’t things that take confidence but I tend to be a pretty confident guy.”

The 23-year-old Braun opened the series against the Wolves by scoring seven points and grabbing two rebounds while playing 19 minutes in a 106-99 loss in Denver. In a 106-80 blowout loss in Game Two, also in Denver, he had two points with two rebounds in 10 minutes.

He played 18 minutes in Denver’s 117-90 victory in Game Three in Minnesota, scoring five points and grabbing three rebounds.

“Watching the first two games I knew how much I could impact the series. I think I could have done more. I knew I could have done more and so I was waiting on that moment, waiting on the opportunity,” said Braun. “I wanted to guard Ant (Anthony Edwards). That’s not just me, that’s everybody. I think I can do a good job being physical.

“This is a series I knew I could play well in. I was waiting through the first two games. I knew I was going to be an impact player even coming in the series. It just didn’t work out for me individually but I knew if I played more that I could have an impact.”

Braun has been credited for making budding superstar Edwards earn his points.

Edwards had 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting Tuesday in Game Five. He was 1-for-5 from 3.

“We knew we had to do something different with Anthony Edwards. This guy is just a one-man wrecking crew,” Malone said of the former Georgia one-and-done college player who went for 43 points and 27 points in the first two games of the series then had 19 in game three and 44 in Game Four.

“I thought KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), C.B. (Braun) and Aaron (Gordon) did a great job. We trapped him. We double teamed him. That takes a lot of effort. Our guys committed to it. I thought that was a big part of our win tonight,” Malone added.

Braun — he pumped his fist wildly after coming up with a big block in the second quarter Tuesday — has a great deal of respect for Edwards.

“We’ve only done well two games (on him). He had 44 and 43. We’re just trying to throw him different things,” Braun said. “He’s got a response, has a reaction for everything. He hit tough shots right, left, dunking. He’s got everything in his bag. We’re just trying to make it hard on him. Even with Mike (Conley, Wolves injured point guard) out tonight, he (Edwards) had to be more a playmaker. So throw more bodies at him trying to wear him out. You’ve got to make him work for everything. That’s what we did,” Braun noted.

Game Six is set for 7:30 p.m., Thursday in Minnesota.

“It’ll be tough,” Braun said, asked how to best close out the Wolves. “They are a tough team to play. We’ve got to be more physical than them. We’ve got to start each quarter better. You’ve got to be physical and start out well. You can’t get down early. Then you are battling back all game against the crowd and a tough team, tough players.. That’s our role, to be physical.”

Braun, who figures to continue his role as a bench player, will not be shy about expressing emotion if things go well in Game Six.

“I don’t mean to do it. I can’t control it. It’s something that kind of comes out of me,” he said of showing emotion. “It’s how I like to play. It kind of helps the team sometimes. Sometimes it probably is too much. I enjoy playing like that.”