The Denver Nuggets came into Game 5 with observers doubting their heart and their talent, but the Nuggets fired back in the second half after trailing by 9 at halftime and topped the Utah Jazz 117-107. Nikola Jokic put up maybe the finest first quarter of his career with 21 points and Murray finished the game with 42 to drown the Jazz’s hopes for an easy end to this series. Donovan Mitchell’s 30 were not enough for Utah, and neither was shooting 47% from 3 as Denver matched their 16 buckets from behind the arc and their 16 free throw attempts. The Jazz started hot but Denver just needed it more at the end, and an en fuego effort from Murray in the second half stretched the series out another game.

Game Recap

Murray missed his first step-back three, while Gobert easily flushed the first bucket of the game with a dunk. Millsap got to the free throw line on a drive, then a poor turnover from Jokic led to another easy transition bucket for Utah. Jokic hit a baseline turnaround J, and Denver answered an open Mitchell three with another trip to the line. Joe Ingles and Mitchell hit back to back threes for Utah though and a 13-6 early lead. Royce O’Neale put in another 3 and Denver had to call timeout down 10. Jokic came out of the timeout and Jokic finished in the paint and Utah finally missed a couple of shots from deep, and then Jokic did this:

But Denver was still down 5. Grant took a charge, Jokic split defenders on offense and the Nuggets fought back to within 3. O’Neale and Jokic traded 3s, and then another three gave Nikola 15 of Denver’s 19 points. Denver’s other shooters were cold, though, and Ingles hit another 3 to keep Utah’s lead at 5, 24-19. Michael Porter Jr. checked into the game and immediate hit a Monte-Morris-assisted 3. A Torrey Craig back-cut tied the game, and Jokic buried another 3. Craig took an inadvertant elbow from Rudy Gobert on a rebound but Murray’s three put Denver back in front by 1. Mike Conley hit a three in the waning seconds. And then Jokic hit this, capping one of the greatest quarters of his career.

MPJ hit another three in the opening minutes of the second quarter, but the Jazz went into the paint for a couple of buckets. Plumlee had a turnover but later hit a great feed to PJ Dozier as the two teams traded buckets. Bradley blocked Plumlee, but then got his own block on Clarkson on the other end. Utah outworked Denver on the boards, though, with Denver coming up one-and-done on the offensive end while the Jazz got multiple opportunities to take the Jazz lead back to four, 43-39. An MPJ trip to the line and Jerami Grant forcing his way for a bucket in the paint tied it up again, but Clarkson buried another 3. Jokic finaklly missed a shot, Clarkson did not as he scored 11 of Utah’s last 13 points and Utah’s lead grew to 8. Gobert got called for an offensive screen foul and MPJ hit a three on the other end. Jokic went cold from the field but he and Jokic fought hard inside as Denver tried to take advantage of its length even though it couldn’t stop Utah’s hot streak from the field. Utah stretched the lead to double digits in the final minute of the half, but a Jokic Sombor Shuffle and a trip to the line for Jamal Murray left Denver trailing 63-54 at the break.

Denver came out of halftime a little disjointed, with Grant taking an off-balance 3 and then committing a foul. Morris missed a 3, then Millsap turned it over. Morris finally scored for Denver, but his was the only bucked in the first 2 minutes and Utah stretched the lead to 15. Torrey Craig hit an open 3, Millsap finally got his first bucket, and free throws and a drive from Murray cut the lead to 9, 74-65. Denver got within seven but Utah’s three-point shooting took it back to 12. Murray finished a beautiful drive in the paint but it was still 79-69 Utah with 4 minutes to go in the quarter. He buried a follow-up deep 3 and then had a beautiful Jokic-to-Murray finish, but Denver struggled with stops. Craig blew a finish after a Murray steal, but Murray came back the next time down and put in a runner to cut it to single digits again. Murray looked like he tweaked an injury in his leg afterward, but stayed in as a Grant bucket cut the lead to 6. A Murray fastbreak cut it to 4, then a 360 layup from Jamal made it a one bucket game and gave him 17 for the quarter. Denver finished with an 86-82 deficit.

Jokic opened the final frame with a three, Porter hit a turnaround jumper and Denver took an 87-86 lead as they picked up their aggression on defense in defending Utah’s screen game. Mitchell answered, but Murray swished another three. Donovan Mitchell tied it at 90 but Murray fired back off the glass. Murray and Porter finished a two-man break to take the lead and Jokic hit a nice step in shot but Mitchell plows a windmill dunk and Conley pitched in a runner to retake the lead 98-96. Murray banked in an angry jumper, and Grant swished a 3 to get Denver over the century mark. Conley got a dunk, then Grant missed a oop dunk then a long 2. Then Jamal Murray pulled this off:

Murray was unconscious, firing in a 3 off a broken play, then knocking home a pair of crucial jumpers. MPJ had a rebound but lost the ball and Rudy Gobert got a dunk off it, but a Murray-to-Jokic 3 with under a minute left was the backbreaker for Utah. Donovan Mitchell banked in a three to cut the lead to 6, but the Nuggets got a clear path foul and imposed their will down the stretch. Jokic and Murray both played 40+ minutes and led Denver to a 117-107 win.

Final Thoughts

– Jamal Murray is the absolute flamethrower with a killer instinct we thought he was. He proved it last playoffs after a shaky beginning and overcame this year’s doldrums in Games 2 and 3 to absolutely slay in Games 4 and 5.

He did it with zero combined turnovers as well, and averaging 9.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the past 2 games. He was the weapon Denver needed him to be and is busy writing his future All-Star ticket with every post-season performance. It’s been so great to see Denver’s 23 year old guard stepping up when Denver needs him most. 

– Malone coached with courage at the end of the game. Down the stretch he benched his trust guys. No Mason Plumlee, No Paul Millsap. He left MPJ out there despite the glaring weaknesses in defensive coverage and Denver won the fourth quarter 35-21. As I said after the game:

Porter is the threat on the glass that others aren’t and he’s the only distance shooter who can keep Utah from helping off of him. If Torrey Craig had played those minutes, Murray would have had a harder time on offense for sure, even as hot as he was. Malone was willing to go with PJ Dozier as his other defender and to involve Grant in the offense as Utah left him creases to operate in. Grant didn’t finish several opportunities, but it all showed that when the chips were down Malone was willing to go away from his preferred method and go all out for the win. Jokic and Murray had to play the whole second half, but with what the Nuggets were getting from other options there really WAS no other option. Malone switched up his pick and roll coverage and the length Denver had on the court finally bothered Utah in the second half after nine straight 30+ point quarters. The Nuggets were fighting for their playoff lives and Malone helped them earn the opportunity to fight another day. 

– The Nuggets live to fight another day. They don’t really know who they are – they have no real vet help and a bunch of young guys put into premium contribution positions with very little experience. Porter and Dozier are going to get long minutes in the next game as well, and the outcome will ride on the backs of their two young superstars. So maybe they do know who they are after all. I don’t know if Murray and Jokic can keep this up. Jokic had 31 after a huge start, while Murray put in 42 with a tremendous finish. But Denver has a puncher’s chance, and that’s all we can ask at this point as fans.

One win down, two to go.