By Daniel Paiz
Nuggets cruise to a 118-102 victory at home, taking a 3-2 Western Semis lead against the visiting Phoenix Suns in Game 5 in the Mile High City. Nikola Jokic cracked another piece of NBA history, as the two-time MVP had his tenth career playoff triple-double with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. This tenth triple-double for a center breaks a tie with the late great Wilt Chamberlain, who had also notched nine playoff triple-doubles in his storied career.
Jamal Murray, despite aggravating his ankle and wrist, chipped in 19 points, and bench player extraordinaire Bruce Brown scored 25 points in the home team’s win. Denver managed to keep Kevin Durant and Devin Booker under 30 points each, as Durant had 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Booker tossed in 28 points. The series now shifts back to Phoenix for Game 6, as the Nuggets look to close out the series on the road.
Game 5 recap
Denver is starting out the first quarter with defensive tenacity, leading to opportunities. This aggressiveness has been missing the past two games, and the Nuggets sorely need it. As play evens out as the first continues, Denver is still hustling just a bit more. Michael Porter Jr. has 14 points in the first, and this in part is why Denver wins the first quarter. As the pendulum swings, so too does the scoring efforts of the Suns, as around the six-minute mark the Suns cut the lead to eight. Denver is keeping up the pressure on defense and on the offensive glass, which will pay dividends as the game proceeds.
However, the Suns rally in the second, outscoring Denver 25-17 and almost tying it at the half, Denver 52-49. Jamal Murray has tweaked his ankle, and it is questionable as to why you wouldn’t sit him at the end of the half to get that assessed and wrapped sooner. I understand you want to use the adrenaline to ideally work around the injury, perhaps making it mobile enough for the rest of the night; but that swelling will increase when they sit at the half, and it needs to be iced and wrapped so he can go in the third if it’s not too bad.
Denver starts fast in the third quarter, much like the first. Denver makes good defensive adjustments, and after a solid drive by Murray, now his right wrist is hurting after he falls. In case you didn’t see it, Bruce Brown gives Jokic a hilarious glazed eyes stare as Jokic pleads his case about a non-foul call as a timeout leads to commercial break. It was certainly a nice bit of levity in a very tense game thus far. At the 4:40 mark, Denver is rolling 77-57. The defense is leading to transition baskets, which is how the Nuggets got the one seed in the first place. Bit of chippy interactions between Brown, Durant, and Jokic towards the end of the third, but Denver wins the third and needs to keep rolling in the fourth.
Just before the 7-minute mark in the fourth quarter, Nikola Jokic had his tenth assist of the night, making it ten playoff triple-doubles by a center, passing the late great Wilt Chamberlain who had recorded nine. When Jokic moves the ball around and thus the scoring, Denver plays like the top seed in the West. Denver keeps the pressure all fourth quarter until the 4-min mark, when the Suns put their bench in. 118-102 leads to a 3-2 Denver series lead.
Keys to Game 6
Denver started out the first quarter aggressive with the ball movement and rebounding, before cooling in the second. That first quarter start needs a repeat in Game 6. The ball movement was similar to the first few home games, as was the defensive pressure. Basketball is not that difficult of a game. More rebounds, more points in the paint, more assists, fewer fouls, and better shooting across all three main categories is why this game turned out the way it did. The effort and the intention on both sides of the ball for Denver was inspiring. Defense led to offense; offense led to continued defensive effort.
Denver’s bench also came to play at home, as the Nuggets outscored the visitors 34-26. The bench still consisted of Brown, Christian Braun and Jeff Green, but the lineup adjustments with their main eight guys helped things keep rolling. It will be vital for the Nuggets to keep things moving, and if they have to slow down due to the pace the Suns set (possibly due to a Chris Paul return), then the lineup adjustments will have to be just as good as Game 5.
Plus, those adjustments by the Nuggets’ team defense kept both of Phoenix’s star players under 30 points. Defensively the one seed will need to pressure the Suns primary scorers and keep up that intensity when the other guys are shooting. Keeping Booker and Durant under 30 points apiece tonight was key for the Nuggets, as Deandre Ayton was the only other Suns player with double digits (14 points). Team effort led to a team win, and replicating that effort is all but mandatory for this level of the playoffs.
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