Denver – Nikola Jokic playfully throws a basketball to Phoenix Suns governor Matt Ishbia as he sits courtside before Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Then, the two-time Kia MVP threw the haymakers at the new owner’s team, as the Nuggets big man recorded his 10th career postseason triple-double in a 118-102 Denver win, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the record with a center. The Nuggets are 30-3 this season when Jokic has a triple-double.
„I think we’re the aggressors,” Jokic said. “The two games in Phoenix, they pushed [us] Everywhere, moving places dig us up. They were more aggressive. Today, I think we were aggressive.
As Jokic left the court after pregame warmups, he saw Ishbia (a former Michigan State basketball player) sitting courtside next to Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker. Jokic held out a basketball and the two laughed before flipping it to Ishbia. The contestants ended the meeting with handshakes and hugs.
The home-court hospitality belied the fitness the 28-year-old will soon unleash on the visiting Suns. Jokic had 53 points and 11 assists in Game 4, tying Larry Bird, Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green for the fifth time in playoff triple-doubles.
Jokic did most of his damage in the third quarter, scoring 17 of his game-high 29 points on 7-for-8 shooting with three rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocked shots as Denver shot 70% and outscored Phoenix by 39. -25.
„I felt like the last two games we played with a better tempo and they physically canceled it out,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. „It started in the first, and then in the third, they were more into us. We just didn’t handle it as well as we could.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s Game 5 at Ball Arena:
1. Transition to Better Change D
Everyone expected Denver to emphasize improving its secondary defense in Game 5, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone made no bones about it before tipoff. Through the first four games of the series, the Nuggets surrendered an average of 19.3 points in turnovers, which ranked last among the eight remaining playoff teams. Meanwhile, Phoenix led the league in fast-break points, nearly three points ahead of the No. 2 Boston Celtics.
In Games 3 and 4, the Suns outscored Denver by an average of 21.5 points. But Denver turned the tables in Game 5 by setting a postseason high with 31 fast-break points, compared to 25 for Phoenix. The performance marked the third time all season that he scored more than 30 fast-break points.
Denver was minus-29 in fast break points through the first four games.
„If we can’t eliminate the turnover, we’re not going to win this series — point blank,” Malone said.
Looking at film of Denver’s last two contests, Malone observed that his team „needs to be more disciplined in its accident rate,” as players routinely hit the glass from the top of the key when they shouldn’t. Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Malone is watching Denver zag back on defense as Devin Booker and Cameron Payne frantically sprint through Nuggets defenders to attack the basket. Malone noted that „your first two steps should be sprinting” in transition defense.
„There are clips when you watch it, and I’ve watched them over and over again, [and] It’s like watching a horror movie,” Malone said. „We’re jogging, they’re sprinting. When you’re in a game, it’s going to come down to one or two, and those are important.
2. Porter Jr. joins the party
Malone talked about „bringing somebody else to the party” ahead of Game 5, pointing to the examples Landry Shamet set to become a reasonable third option in Phoenix’s Game 4 win. In the Lakers-Warriors series, LA reserve swingman Lonnie Walker IV scored all 15 of his points in the fourth quarter of Monday’s Game 4 as the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the West semifinal series.
“Landry stepped up and made big play after big play [in Game 4 with] Five 3s, that made a difference,” Malone said. „I’m sure you all watched the Golden State-Laker game last night. Lonnie Walker is a difference maker.
Michael Porter Jr. stepped up to the plate in the first half of Tuesday’s game. The 24-year-old scored Denver’s first bucket in the first two quarters en route to strong deep-ball marksmanship, going 6-of-9 from the field and 4-of-6 on 3-point range for 16 first-half points. Porter connected on his first two buckets deep in the first quarter and eventually had eight defensive rebounds and a steal, pouring in 14 of his 19 points on the night in the opening frame.
Porter averaged 12 points in the first four games of the series. So a solid showing in Game 5 was a welcome surprise for a Denver team looking for more production from players not named Jokic and Jamal Murray. Porter had 11 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4 for his sixth season double-double with a career-high tying four assists, but Denver needed more scoring in Game 5 from the fourth-year player.
3. Brown Powers Denver Bench
The Phoenix bench outscored Denver’s backups 65-31 in Games 3 and 4, and Denver won that battle 36-28 in Games 1 and 2. But in Game 5, Denver spilled just one of their postseason 34 bench points. The matchup was eliminated from the Suns reserves as they outscored the Nuggets backups 40-11.
Credit to Bruce Brown for turning Denver’s fortunes around on bench play for Game 5. The senior scored just 16 points Total In games 3 and 4.
Denver’s bench outscored the Suns’ backups 34-26.
Brown’s performance marked the 12th time in Denver franchise history and just the second time since 2013 that a Nuggets backup scored 25 points or more in the playoffs.
„I played my game, got out in transition, and it got me going,” Brown said.
4. The star pair of Sun slows down
Booker and Kevin Durant combined for 601 points through the first nine games of the season, which easily tops the list for most combined points by a duo in its first season together. Then they hit a roadblock in Game 5 against the Denver defense.
The Nuggets limited both Booker and Durant to 54 points on 18-for-43 shooting with seven turnovers.
Booker shot 8-for-19, his lowest field goal percentage of the season, while Durant was 10-for-24, including 0-for-3 from 3-point range.
Phoenix is 0-3 this postseason in games in which neither Booker nor Durant score 30 points or more.
5. Murray bounces back
Murray struggled through the first three quarters, scoring nine points on 3-of-10 shooting. Murray shot 4-of-5 from the field and knocked down both of his 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter for 10 points and no assists after making two turnovers earlier in the night.
Murray made his 10th career postseason outing with 19 points or more to go with five-plus rebounds and six-plus dimes. Denver has an 8-2 record in that situation. Murray has six-plus assists in six games this postseason.
„I struggled early in the game and I wasn’t going to force it,” Murray said. „I’ve got teammates, I’ve got a bunch of unselfish guys behind me, they’re going to lift me up, lift all of us up. Everybody, it’s a team effort. You’re not going to play well. You’re going to struggle. Go on runs. But I felt like we handled it. The night was big for us.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can email him HereFind his archive Here And follow him Twitter.
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