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Nikola Jokic's 40-point masterclass hands Nuggets 3-2 playoff series lead over Timberwolves

Bennett Durando, The Denver Post on

Published in Basketball

Nobody could hear a word Adam Silver was saying, but the speech was probably nice.

On a night Ball Arena drowned out the NBA commissioner’s presentation of Nikola Jokic’s third MVP award with “M-V-P” chants, Jokic proceeded to give Silver a treat. He went for 40 points, seven rebounds and 13 assists to lead the Nuggets to a 112-97 Game 5 win and a 3-2 series lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jokic made 15 of 22 shots from the field. He didn’t turn it over. It didn’t matter who former Denver assistant coaches Chris Finch and Micah Nori threw at him: Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Naz Reid, Kyle Anderson. He discarded each matchup with some of the most creative passing and most gentle brushstroke finishing of his career.

It hardly mattered that second option Jamal Murray was limited to an inefficient 16 points, or that third option Michael Porter Jr. struggled with just six. Jokic continued to harness the power of Aaron Gordon behind his own finesse. Gordon went for 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Even after the Timberwolves started the third quarter on an 11-3 run to force a Michael Malone timeout and briefly seize a 55-53 lead, the Nuggets ended up averaging 1.58 points per possession in the quarter. Jokic scored 16 of his points to take control, 88-74.

Some of his finest highlights will be forgotten because they didn’t result in statistics and won’t show up on the reels. Twice in the third, his beautiful feeds to Aaron Gordon ended in Gordon getting fouled on missed dunks. One stemmed from a no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass.

Other highlights will stand the test of time if the Nuggets escape this second-round series, which they once trailed 2-0 as they boarded a plane for Minneapolis. Now they’ll board another as the first winner of a home game in this series. Game 6 is Thursday (6:30 p.m. MT) at Target Center. The Nuggets have won eight of its last nine road playoff games dating back to last season.

 

Momentum was on their side entering the critical fifth contest, but the numbers revealed a series as tightly contested as any. Point differential through four? Denver 411, Minnesota 409. Offensive rating? Denver 111.4, Minnesota 110.8. True shooting? Denver 58.9%, Minnesota 57.9%.

But as these kinds of series stretch deeper, teams tend to be just as good as their star players. Jokic’s superstar adversary, Anthony Edwards, followed up his 44-point squandered masterpiece with just 18 on 5-of-15 shooting and four turnovers. Denver made him play in a crowd with Mike Conley out (Achilles tendon, game-time decision) and Minnesota lacking floor-spacers behind him. The Nuggets were quick to send help. Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Christian Braun continued to trade the remote control for primary matchup duties.

Caldwell-Pope, due for a good offensive game, added 16 points and made 80% of his 3s.

But Jokic was truly the only dominant player on the floor in the first half. He went to the locker room with 19 points (10 shots) and eight assists, plus two steals and a block. Points in the paint favored the Nuggets at half, 34-14. Transition points were 8-0. Braun was catching Minnesota sleeping for layups and dunks. Reggie Jackson was converting tough finishes. The Timberwolves only outscored Denver 5-3 in four minutes of rest for Jokic. Malone committed the most fruitful technical foul of all time for arguing a non-charge call; Denver successfully took three charges in the next two minutes.

Yet the lead was only 50-44 at halftime, with Towns and Minnesota’s role players making just enough 3s to stay alive. Then after the Timberwolves made their quick push out of halftime, once again, there was only Jokic. And more “M-V-P” chants.


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