• Jamal Murray will not be denied
  • The Nuggets defense tightens up for the first time all series
  • Nikola Jokic carries the load in the first quarter, hits the dagger
  • Michael Porter Jr. gets some valuable reps
  • PJ Dozier is the unsung hero

In a do-or-die Game 5, it would have been easy for the Denver Nuggets to roll over and die. They gave the Utah Jazz everything they could handle in Game 4, but the Jazz still won and took a 3-1 series lead. No team in the bubble at that point had prevented elimination after the opposition won their third game.

The Nuggets were the first one. They finally found their defense in the second half of this game, and Jamal Murray just won’t miss. He’s on absolute fire, helping the Nuggets win Game 5 and prevent elimination.

My five takeaways:

Jamal Murray continues to play like a superstar

In Game 4, Jamal Murray did what he had to do to keep the Nuggets within striking distance. He hit shot after shot, even making his final three-pointer at the buzzer, but the 50 points weren’t enough with Denver struggling defensively.

In Game 5, Murray brought that same intensity in the second half. It took him a little to get going, but the Nuggets found their rhythm when they locked in defensively and put the ball in Murray’s hands on the offensive end. Murray had another 42 points to go with eight assists, eight rebounds, and zero turnovers on 17/26 from the field and 4/8 from three-point territory.

Murray continues to put up incredible performances that put him in rarified air. In Game 1, he couldn’t miss in the fourth quarter and overtime. In Game 4, he dropped 50 with zero turnovers. Today, he brought it once again. When Donovan Mitchell slowed down just the tiniest bit, Murray kept powering through to ensure the Nuggets won this one.

He’s taking a star leap before our very eyes. It’s undeniable at this point.

The defense finally made an appearance, and not a moment too soon

It took the Nuggets a long time, but they finally found some ways to disrupt the Utah Jazz on the defensive end. In the second half tonight, the Nuggets allowed just 44 points as the Jazz struggled to get the exact looks they wanted on every possession. In addition, their outside shooting tapered off just a little bit, which was the gap the Nuggets needed to figure things out.

Jerami Grant was solid against Donovan Mitchell today. He wasn’t perfect, but rather than getting bumped off by a screen consistently, Grant stayed close to Mitchell and forced him into tougher shots than all series long. Mitchell’s taking a star leap too, so he’s going to continue to get his, but Denver limited it ever so slightly, and Grant deserves a ton of credit.

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Nikola Jokic was on absolute fire in the first quarter

While Jamal Murray was the storyline tonight, it was Nikola Jokic spending the first quarter making sure the Nuggets didn’t go down without a fight. Tasked with spacing the floor and punishing Jazz center Rudy Gobert for playing drop coverage defensively, Jokic shot the lights out. He scored 21 points on 8/8 from the field and 5/5 from three-point range. Some of the shots were high difficulty attempts too.

Jokic has put up good numbers in this series, but there was never a moment where he truly put his stamp on the game as the superstar and best player. This was his moment. Game 5, first quarter, all eyes on him from the Nuggets sideline to see whether he would fight. He fought hard, took the shots he needed to take, and helped settle the team down.

Oh, and he did this.

Michael Porter Jr. continues to get valuable reps

I thought MPJ looked pretty good today. There are always moments to point to where he looks like a rookie. Look no further than the turnover he had while trying to dribble in traffic late in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets attempted to ice the game. He continues to be one of Denver’s weakest links on the defensive end, and he’s prone to taking shots at some inopportune times.

And yet, despite the mishaps, Porter was a +18 in a 10-point victory in 34 minutes off the bench tonight. The Nuggets need him and the attention he draws offensively to space the floor for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Porter has had just one playoff game in which he’s shot under 40% from three, so it makes sense that despite the defensive questions, Denver continues to scorch fire on the other end.

Tonight, Porter looked a lot better defensively. He was rotating to the correct spots most of the time, keeping himself in between his man and the basket, and he also navigated several difficult defensive maneuvers to cover Utah’s HORNS Twist action.

The Jokic-Murray-Porter trio is a +25 in 91 playoff minutes when they all share the floor together. Porter’s learning curve has been steep, but I firmly believe he will be a big part of things if the Nuggets advance in this series.

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PJ Dozier plays a big role in Game 5

Welcome back to the rotation PJ Dozier. You won’t be leaving it anytime soon.

The Nuggets started this game with a big forward lineup featuring Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap, but it’s quickly becoming apparent that Utah’s guards are too quick for Millsap to handle in this series. The veteran only played 19 minutes and was a -11 in that brief time. In those situations, you want Millsap to be able to bully whoever is guarding him, but he hasn’t been able to do so at any point of this series.

So the counter from Malone has been going smaller with PJ Dozier, a quicker 1-on-1 defender who offers length and defensive intelligence within Denver’s scheme. He wasn’t perfect tonight, and Mike Conley made some veteran moves against him at times, but the overall level of perimeter defense went up when Dozier stepped on the floor. He’s smart, attentive, and makes the right rotation on defense almost every single time.

If the Nuggets are going to win this series, it will come with a big boost from Dozier.