The Denver Nuggets absolutely needed to win Game 5 against the Phoenix Suns, and they delivered, winning 118-102 in blowout fashion.

Nikola Jokić led all scorers with 29 points, adding 13 rebounds and 12 assists to notch the 10th triple-double of his playoff career. Jokić passed Wilt Chamberlain for most triple-doubles by a center in playoff history, but it was simply another game for Jokić.

“Nikola never forces anything,” Malone stated. “He’s a guy that will read the game and take what the game offers.”

Tonight, it offered Jokić a buffet. He feasted on both Deandre Ayton and Jock Landale, forcing double teams and feeding backdoor cuts and flare screens for open shots consistently.

Jamal Murray started off slow but bounced back as well, putting up 19 points, five rebounds, and six assists, on 7-of-15 from the field and 2-of-4 from three. He was locked in after some trash talk to Landry Shamet in the third quarter and made the Suns pay for that decision.

“The energy’s a little different when we’re at home. The pace is a little faster for us,” Jamal Murray shared. “We’ve gotta carry that over to Phoenix.”

The Suns got a little frustrated with the way things were going. Late in the third quarter during an impromptu timeout, the Suns tried to draw up a play while a dead ball was happening. Jokić walked over to the huddle and peered around Kevin Durant to get a look at the clipboard. Durant wasn’t too fond of that, shoving Jokić back to the tune of an impressive flop from Jokić and drawing a technical foul from Durant.

Jokić is hilarious, and one of the best players to ever play the game. It’s taken everything for the Nuggets to be up 3-2 in this series, but Jokić and the Nuggets delivered a clean Game 5.

Here are my takeaways:

Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray start slow and finish strong

It was clank season in the early going for both Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. Jokić started the game 2-of-9 from the field and missed some tip-ins he usually makes (probably because he was getting fouled). Murray was 1-of-6 to begin the game and looked entirely out of sorts, seemingly out of rhythm to begin things.

Both players figured things out after slow starts though. For Jokić, the change was immediate and extraordinary. He made each of his next eight shots, setting the table for himself and teammates for easy, run-of-the-mill offense. He converted multiple And-1’s with deft touch and an understanding of the leverage/angle needed to draw contact. It was a masterclass from Jokić after a slow start, and it helped blow the game wide open in the third quarter.

“I think sometimes, we maybe take Nikola Jokić for granted,” Malone shared. “Because what he is doing is just incredible every single night. Now he has 10 triple-doubles, passing Wilt Chamberlain…he makes everyone around him better, never gets rattled, cool hand Luke.”

Murray’s bounce back was more muted but still impressive. The Suns started Landry Shamet in the second half to space the floor, and Jamal took that personally. He went right at him consistently at the beginning of the quarter, even drawing a technical foul after an And-1 over Shamet. Murray calmed down enough to run the offense, get better shots for everybody, and found his groove in the process. 19 points, five rebounds, and six assists is a muted stat line for Murray, but he played much better overall and looked the part of a floor general out there.

Devin Booker appears to be human again

The biggest key for the Nuggets in this game was their defensive pressure, something they applied full court to Devin Booker this time around. Booker whacked Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the face early, but the Nuggets stuck with it possibly tired out Booker a bit sooner during this game than they did in Phoenix. Booker still had 28 points, but he shot 8-of-19 from the field, 4-of-7 from three, and 8-of-9 from the line. It wasn’t the Michael Jordan esque performance the Nuggets had grown accustomed to from Games 3 and 4.

“I think it slows the game down for them,” Murray said of Denver’s fullcourt ball pressure on Booker tonight. “They’re trying to run. They’re trying to get out and create some opportunities in the fast break.”

If the Nuggets are going to win this series in Game 6, they’re going to have to apply the same pressure to Booker. Whether it’s Caldwell-Pope, or Bruce Brown, or Christian Braun (who played much better today) the Nuggets have to make Booker work for it. He had been dribbling into easy pull-ups (for him) without any deterrence in Phoenix. Denver has to apply that physicality in Phoenix if they want to steal the game.

“I told all these guys, guard him like they guard me, man!” Murray exclaimed.

Denver certainly did that tonight, and it paid off in a big way.

Michael Porter Jr. and Bruce Brown step up

After playing a solid Game 3, Michael Porter Jr. was mostly a non-factor in Game 4. He struggled to get involved with how heavily focused the Nuggets were on running two-man game, and when he did have opportunities, he missed out.

He didn’t miss to begin Game 5.

Jokić and Murray both struggled a bit in the first quarter, but Porter picked up the slack, creating three-pointers for himself with great off-ball movement and relocation. The Nuggets, specifically Jokić, sought him out early and often, and Porter delivered in a big way, scoring 14 points in the first quarter to push Denver ahead. The Nuggets needed that boost because the Suns tied it later on, but Porter’s ability to take and make the right three-pointers for the Nuggets was huge.

Bruce Brown was also spectacular for Denver. 25 points off the bench on 7-of-11 from the field, 2-of-4 from three, and 9-of-10 from the free throw line. His aggressiveness off the dribble, in transition, and as a shooter behind the arc stood out so much. he put pressure on the Suns in ways they simply couldn’t handle, feeding off the energy of the crowd every time. A big time performance from Brown.

“I thought Bruce was outstanding,” Malone shared. “Playing downhill, playing to the rim, playing in attack mode, and that’s when Bruce is at his best.”

How the Suns bounce back at home will be paramount to whether the Nuggets can finish this series off in Phoenix. It was great to see the Nuggets put the Suns back on their heels with physicality, toughness, and elite execution after faltering at times on the road. The Suns played amazing basketball in games 3 and 4, but the Nuggets have held serve and are in position to put things away on Thursday night.

Whether they can get it done or not remains to be seen, but the good news is, the Nuggets appear to have figured out some key elements to what a road win would take: pressure Devin Booker fullcourt, get Jamal Murray off-ball a bit, involve Michael Porter Jr. early, and trust the decision making of Nikola Jokić. That seems like a repeatable formula, even if Bruce Brown scoring 25 points is unlikely.

We will see what Thursday brings, but it doesn’t make tonight any less impressive.

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