Game 5 was all about Nikola Jokic.

It began before the game even began. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was here to present Nikola Jokic with the 2023-24 MVP award, handing it to Jokic in front of the fans. Jokic looked to be mildly pleased with the situation, certainly not elated, but his teammates picked up the slack at the end when they rushed in to celebrate with him.

Then, the game got started, and Jokic never looked back.

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-97 tonight to take Game 5, moving ahead 3-2 in the series. Jokic was at the center of it all, putting together an unprecedented stat line of 40 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds, and zero turnovers. Jokic is the first player in NBA history to put together that stat line, and he did it in a litany of ways.

Mostly though, Jokic took it right at Rudy Gobert. Over and over and over again.

It was absolutely absurd watching Jokic tonight.

“Nikola was named MVP after that Game 2 loss,” Michael Malone recalled postgame, “and I think the last three games, the last three consecutive wins, he’s showing everybody, arguably, why he’s one of the best players to [ever] play this game.”

“I mean, you saw it. You know, he’s the MVP,” Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch shared. “The best player in the world. We tried to do a bit of everything on him and he had it all going, but we didn’t have an answer for him.”

Both sides were in awe of Jokic and his ability to control the game. He had several important possessions tonight when he surveyed the defense, identified the best course of action, and executed the plan over and over again. Never before has a center done this to such a degree. A variety of hook shots, runners, shots through contact, fadeaways, and even a timely jumper or two. If you overplay his shooting, he’s the most willing passer on the planet. If you leave him in 1-on-1 coverage, he’s more than willing to cook whoever’s in front of him.

Tonight, Rudy Gobert was the sacrificial lamb. You know, the four-time Defensive Player of the Year?

“He was in the zone. There were a couple of shots that I think I actually blocked and the ball went in,” Rudy Gobert shared about guarding Jokic tonight. “It was just incredible in that quarter. He put the team on his back. He was making everything, drawing fouls, getting to the line. So it was definitely one of those stretches that we’re going to watch on film to see what we should have done better. There were also plays that he made that are tough to cover.”

The Timberwolves stayed attached to Denver throughout the game. Whether it was a four-point lead, an eight-point lead, or a 12-point lead, the Timberwolves were hanging around while the Nuggets were having their third quarter party, hitting enough threes to stay in the game for a while. Every time they came within striking distance though, it felt like Jokic and the Nuggets had some answers. The Nuggets were never really in danger in the fourth quarter for that reason.

Outside of Jokic, the Nuggets had a variety of contributors step up to the plate. Jamal Murray began the game slowly but finished strong with 16 points and four assists. The way the T’Wolves were covering him and blitzing him at times, he often gave the ball up to Jokic and watched him go to work, but there were a few possessions when he started the chain reaction of events that led to the bucket by getting the ball to Jokic through traffic.

“The main thing was just not forcing anything,” Murray shared about his night. “If Jok is scoring like that there is no need to do anything special. I felt like tonight I was just trying to control the tempo if that makes sense, just pick my spots, drive when they are collapsing, all of that stuff.”

Aaron Gordon was dynamic with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Gordon was incredible, though he got into foul trouble with two fouls in the first four minutes of the game. Fortunately, Gordon finished with just those two fouls, and the rest of the time, he was actively trying to put Rudy Gobert and others on posters, playing stout defense, and making plays for his teammates.

 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had his first great shooting game of the series, scoring 16 points on 6-of-8 from the field and 4-of-5 from deep. Some of the threes he attempted were high difficulty too, but KCP was shooting into a big basket tonight and seemed very comfortable.

He also played strong defense against Anthony Edwards, though the Nuggets spent the vast majority of the time sending double teams at Ant trying to avoid him getting downhill without resistance. The young T’Wolves star had just 18 points on 5-of-15 from the field tonight. Though he had nine assists, he also had four turnovers while often trying to force plays that weren’t there against Denver’s defense. The Nuggets were entirely keyed in on Edwards tonight, aided by the absence of Mike Conley (out due to a sore achilles tendon) as a secondary playmaker.

Finally, Christian Braun off the bench was the key reserve. In 27 minutes, he put up 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks, doing a bit of everything. He closed over Michael Porter Jr. (who had a rough game) and brought the needed energy and spark to what the Nuggets were doing. Most of his rebounds were grabbed in the fourth quarter, and he even had a pull-up three-pointer when the Timberwolves dared him to shoot. Braun’s finding his rhythm in these playoffs and making important plays around Denver’s starters.

So, after going down 0-2 and looking like the sky was falling around and on top of them, the Nuggets have dug themselves out of the 0-2 hole and are now sitting pretty at 3-2. The Timberwolves will host Game 6, and the faith in their process can’t be extremely high with the way the Nuggets have meticulously and systematically dismantled them over the course of three games. Combine that with Mike Conley’s absence and things are looking grim in Minneapolis.

Still, the Nuggets know closeout games are difficult. They know that Target Center will be an absolute zoo. They know what it’s going to take to win Game 6.

“It’s a great win in front of a great crowd,” Michael Malone shared of tonight’s Game 5 victory, “but we got to go up to Minnesota and try to close it out. That’s always the toughest game.”

Denver’s energy and effort will have to be excellent. After the first two losses of the series though, the Nuggets appear to have well and truly woken up. They needed that moment, to be throttled a bit for not approaching the matchup as seriously and desperately as they needed to.

Now, we will see if they can finish the job.

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