The Denver Nuggets Want to Stay on Parade

by 24USATVMay 15, 2024, 10:01 p.m. 21
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Nikola Jokić hatched a master plan for Game 5. Then he turned in a masterclass. After receiving his third MVP trophy in front of a frenzied crowd in Ball Arena, Jokić went to work against the best defense in the NBA. The plan was simple—if there was help, he passed. If there wasn’t, he eviscerated anyone in his path. One man tried to stand tall in opposition, but Jokić turned the 4x DPOY, Rudy Gobert, into mincemeat in front of a national audience. There’s no need for retroactive discourse over either award. Gobert deserved his trophy. He just ran into another player who earned his. No one on the planet can guard Jokić one-on-one.

Jokić finished the game with forty points on 22 shots. It was perhaps the loudest 40 points I’ve ever witnessed. He also dished out 13 assists without turning it over, tearing an exceptional defense to shreds. The Nuggets pulled away in the third quarter after a wise timeout from Michael Malone. The Wolves were making a desperate push, so Jokić extinguished all hope with one of the best quarters of his career. He scored 16 points, corraled 3 rebounds, and recorded 4 assists in 12 minutes. He shot 6/7 from the field during that stretch. Gobert and the Wolves were helpless.

I have memories many of you can relate to—memories of my father and grandfathers describing the legends of their time and the unforgettable moments that shape sports history. Anyone who watched Game 5 knows what they saw: a legendary performance from a legendary athlete. Skepticism made one last stand after the first two games, but like the 4x DPOY, it stood before inevitable greatness. And then it fell.

If Game 4 was a reminder game, Game 5 was one step further. There shouldn’t be any necessary reminders in the future. The book is closed on who Jokić might be as a competitor—or, more aptly, who he might not be. He gave us an emphatic answer: he’s the best player alive and in closer competition with history than his peers.

Murray turned in a much quieter performance than Jokić but was sneakily effective. He scored 16 points on 7/14 shooting and recorded 4 assists. He controlled his tempo as he drove into the lane, trying to read the help defense. Some moments called for him to score: quick gear shifts and nifty finishes at the rim, a floater and turnaround jumper in the paint—even a bailout bucket on a broken possession. But more moments called for him to lay out. Game 5 was about Jokić, and Murray had no intentions of stealing the show.

Jokić was the most influential player on the floor by a mile, but no one worked harder than Aaron Gordon. His burst and lift returned as he flew up and down the court. AG dunked four times in the win and grabbed five offensive rebounds. He also drew two charges in a matter of minutes. He did all the little things en route to a double-double with five assists to boot. He was also part of the Anthony Edwards contingent for Denver. Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Christian Braun did their best job yet of making life difficult for Minnesota’s best player.

Pope was due for a great game, and the timing was great for the defending champions. He broke out his slump, shooting 4/5 from deep on his way to 16 points. He grabbed 5 rebounds and recorded 4 assists as well. He even sold an offense foul call, as he’s known to do.

Pope struggled on both sides of the ball in the first four games. Edwards has proved a problematic matchup for Denver’s best perimeter defender. KCP found more success in Game 5, thanks to tired legs for Edwards and a new game plan from the Nuggets.

“We knew we had to do something different with Anthony Edwards,” Michael Malone said after the game. “This guy is just a one-man wrecking crew. And I thought KCP, CB, Aaron did a great job, but we trapped him—we double-teamed him. Flew around behind it. And that takes a lot of effort, and our guys committed to it.”

Porter looks a step behind the action on both sides of the ball. After a decent start to the series, the basketball seems to be moving too quickly for him. He salvaged a solid rebounding effort and two blocks from the wreck. But that doesn’t outweigh his mistakes. Like Bruce Brown last year, Christian Braun was on clean-up duty.

Braun closed the game in MPJ’s stead once again. It was an easy call for Malone. Porter struggled, and Braun was locked in. He contributed more great defense on Edwards and reached double-digits in scoring. He finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. He knocked down another big three in the fourth quarter. He’s brimming with confidence right now.

Holiday didn’t knock down any threes this time, but he logged roughly fifteen minutes, grabbed three rebounds, and finished in the positive. There’s not much to write home about or complain about.

The bench minutes are the pleasant surprise of the second round, and Jackson is an underrated factor. The Nuggets haven’t had to play him much, and he’s played terrific basketball in short spurts. He shot 3/3 from the floor in roughly six minutes of playing time.

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