The Denver Nuggets delivered a statement win, smothering the Trail Blazers in Game 5 and moving them one step closer to elimination.
The Nuggets threw down a gauntlet in Game 5. On their home court, and with a chance to take firm control over their series with the Trail Blazers they played one of their best games of the postseason. Everyone seemed to have the shooting touch and their defense never let Portland establish a rhythm.
Denver led by six at the end of the first quarter, 18 at the half and 28 at the end of the third. Nikola Jokic fouled out with four minutes left in the fourth quarter and it didn’t even come close to mattering. As the series shifts back to Portland, the Nuggets have all of the momentum and just need one more win to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets starters were humming. Denver put up 124 points, getting 91 from their starting lineup tonight. Millsap and Jokic both scored over 20 points. Along with Gary Harris and Jamal Murray, they racked up 19 assists. Harris played superb defense on Damian Lillard. Even Torrey Craig chipped in 8 points and 8 rebounds, knocking down a 3-pointer. The Nuggets played with effort and urgency, without sacrificing execution. When you think about the offensive ideal, each of the pieces playing their roles in perfect synergy, this was pretty darn close.
Jokic’s advantage just keeps getting bigger. Kanter was a pretty poor defensive option to begin with but his ailing shoulder means he doesn’t even have physicality to throw at Jokic. Al-Farouq Aminu was devoured in the post and asking Zach Collins to spackle this enormous interior hole would be almost laughable, if there was any other option. Portland could come harder with double-teams, throw different looks at Jokic to try and get the ball out of his hands but when the ball comes out of hands, it’s often going right into the hands of a wide-open shooter.
Damian Lillard is getting smothered. Harris has been playing terrific defense on him, not just forcing misses but forcing the ball out of his hands and keeping him from getting open looks. The blitzes Denver’s bigs are throwing out are keeping Lillard moving backward or sideways and he hasn’t been able to split the defense and get into the paint like he did in Game 1. Lillard is an insanely skilled scorer and he could certainly turn things around. But right now, all the edge he used to beat the Thunder in the first round seems to be gone.