The Denver Nuggets looked listless and out of sorts in Game 4 on Wednesday, and much of that was a direct result of the suffocating defense the Clippers put on them from wire to wire en route to a comfortable 96-85 victory. The win gave them a commanding 3-1 series lead and moved them one step closer to the first conference finals appearance in franchise history.
The Clippers put the clamps on defensively and were able to effectively neutralize Jamal Murray, and while Nikola Jokic put up some big numbers, the Nuggets didn’t get many contributions outside of their top two stars in the second half, prompting some head-turning comments from Michael Porter Jr., who criticized the coaching staff for not getting enough touches after having the hot hand earlier in the contest.
Well, Porter Jr. found some vindication as the Nuggets managed to stay alive to force Game 6 with a gritty 107-100 comeback win on Friday night. Here’s what we learned from a wild Game 5.
Michael Porter Jr. Eventually Got His Touches And Made The Most Of Them
MPJ got plenty of backlash after criticizing the Nuggets coaching staff for his lack of touches in the second half of Game 4, and rightfully so. Porter Jr. is in the midst of his first postseason run and still has a lot to learn about how to handle these types of situations.
And for most of Game 5, things didn’t bode well for him. He was held scoreless for the first three-plus quarters against the Clippers, but when it counted most, MPJ came up huge to help keep the Nuggets’ season alive, first with a clutch three-pointer with just over a minute to play, followed by a big defensive play on Ivica Zubac on the other end.
He finished with seven points and five rebounds and had arguably two of the biggest possessions of the game as Denver lives to fight for at least one more game.
Paul Millsap Came Through When The Nuggets Needed Him The Most
Despite MPJ’s late-game heroics, it was another Denver forward who sparked the Nuggets when their season was on the line. After trailing by as many as 16 in the third quarter, Denver went on a 10-2 run by the three-minute mark, led by Paul Millsap. The veteran forward, who hasn’t always looked like himself this postseason, scored 14 of his 17 points in the quarter after struggling offensively this series to help the Nuggets cut the lead to 70-63 going into the fourth.
MPJ’s comments underscored the Nuggets’ need for a third scoring option this series, and Millsap’s performance was a reminder of just how crucial his contributions have been for this team during his tenure there and what they’re capable of when he’s playing at his best.
It’s Hard To Close Out A Series
Even with Kawhi Leonard (36 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and Paul George (26 points, six rebounds, six assists) putting up huge performances, it wasn’t enough to close out the Nuggets, who were all over the place in Game 5 on Friday night, yet somehow scrambled it all together to force Game 6 on Sunday.
Both Murray and Jokic looked flat for most of the game until they both hit their stride at the perfect time in the fourth quarter. During one sequence, Murray and Jokic hit back-to-back shots to give the Nuggets their first lead of the game, 91-88, followed by another three from Murray to make it 94-88 and force L.A. to call a timeout.
It was a 14-2 run by the midway mark of the quarter as Denver held the Clippers scoreless for more than four minutes, and made six of their first seven three-pointers in the period. History was definitely against the Nuggets tonight. Sixty percent of the time, the team that goes up 3-1 in a series closes it out in Game 5. But the Nuggets reminded the Clippers just how hard it is to close out a series, even when things are going right.
For Doc Rivers and the Clippers, who have never made it out of the second round during their time together, they’ll have to put those plans on hold and try again when Game 6 tips off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.