Recap: Despite Herculean effort from Nikola Jokic, Denver falls in Game 5 102-98
The Nuggets fought hard in this game. They made this series interesting despite their huge upgrade in the first two games, but in the end it wasn’t enough as they fell in 5 games against the Golden State Warriors. Nikola Jokic put in a Herculean effort with 30 points, 19 rebounds and 8 assists in just 32 minutes, as he did most of that on a hamstring. Add the fact that Austin Rivers also suffered an injury and the already depleted Nuggets were further depleted. They made it a close game at the end and only lost 102-98. They can go home with their heads held high.
The Nuggets looked to set the tone early. They wanted to be aggressive and shoot fouls. They managed to do that thanks to Aaron Gordon early on. He got 6 free throws in less than 3 minutes to start the game. Add Nikola Jokic also doing his thing early, and the Nuggets were scoring at a good pace. However, the Warriors are the Warriors and have started their death roster. With Austin Rivers not starting, the Nuggets didn’t have a great game and it showed early. Klay Thompson got to the line 4 times, recorded 3 assists and a basket. Steph Curry bombed two off-screen 3s, and Wiggins also had 5 points and a 3 early. Everything happened in the first 6 minutes. It forced Denver to a timeout after the score went to 21-15 and Monte Morris was called for a foul, also lining up two free throws on deck for the Warriors.
A lack of spacing and defense was evident in the lineup Malone started with, and he rolled out what I thought must have been the starting lineup and replaced Jeff Green with Austin Rivers. It had an impact and made the Warriors’ offensive job more difficult immediately. However, the Nuggets were making a lot of misunderstandings on offense, which resulted in a turnover that simply shouldn’t have happened. Aaron Gordon was also called for a weak technical foul, where Draymond Green caught him and it was somehow not Draymond’s fault. After that, the technical free throw was missed and the Nuggets went on to catch Aaron Gordon getting an and-1 and Monte Morris knocking down a 3.
However, the momentum was halted when Austin Rivers was beaten by Steph Curry on a backdoor and immediately limped to the locker room. After his exit, only 2 points were scored in the last 2 minutes of the quarter by the Nuggets. They also left good looks for the Warriors who didn’t convert and a Jordan Poole and -1 they did. Overall, the Nuggets were lucky to be down by just 5. Will Barton had missed a few shots he could make and played poor defense, and apart from Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic, the he team had only scored 2 field goals, both of which came from Monte Morris. The Warriors lead 30-25 after the first.
The Nuggets decided to go with an all-benches formation to start the second quarter, and it’s not the one you think. Malone played Facu/Forbes/Bones/JMyke/Boogie and he played defense as well as you think. Luckily the Nuggets only gave up 6 points in the first 3 minutes but it could easily have been 12 as they gave Klay Thompson 2 open 3s which he just missed. The lineup didn’t play well offensively; score only 5 points in the same amount of time. Malone made the adjustment to stagger a timeout shortly after the 9-minute mark to replace Will Barton and Aaron Gordon.
Outside of time out, the bench went to Demarcus Cousins who fouled and was playing very well. He knocked down both free throws to put himself at 6 points. Boogie bounced back and scored another basket. Will Barton threw a pair of free throws, and the Nuggets then brought Jokic and Jeff Green back. Steph Curry scored a field goal, but Aaron Gordon responded with a layup and -1 to a penny from Joker. Aaron Gordon had truly changed the course of the show and redeemed his first fights on the show ten times.
The rest of the quarter was an incredibly sloppy affair. Both teams were missing shots, but the Nuggets were playing good defense. Even without Austin Rivers, who was doubtful to return with right hamstring pain, the Nuggets were much more disciplined for that end. They made a few errant turnovers, but finished the quarter strong enough to take it to halftime at 48 apiece. Nikola Jokic hadn’t even started and they were still keeping pace with Golden State. It was far from the worst it could have been, but the Nuggets would need their MVP to step in if they wanted to create a split.
It shows how good Jokic is that 12 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists from 56% from the field was disappointing. Some other Nuggets are Aaron Gordon sitting on 15 points with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal, and Demarcus Cousins with 8 points and 3 rebounds. The team as a whole was not shooting well, but only shooting 40% from the field and 21% from 3. They had kept the Warriors at 40% from the field and only 33% from 3, so their defense was going a huge way. . The big divider between the two teams was that the Nuggets made 20 free throws against the Warriors 7. Overall, the Nuggets and Warriors entered the half tied with 48 points apiece.
The second half started with Jeff Green throwing a lob from Jokic. Andrew Wiggins responded with a basket, but Will Barton got a lay-up on a fine pass from Aaron Gordon. Then came Nikola Jokic, first he scored an easy bucket and he followed it up with a spike pass to Monte Morris for Monte’s second 3 of the game. The Warriors were starting to lose the rope, and although they were scoring a little, the Nuggets were scoring more. The Warriors called a timeout just 3 minutes into the half.
The momentum started heading towards the Nuggets with Jokic quickly scoring 4 more points and Will Barton making another lay-up. They took the lead up to 10 points and Chase Center went silent for a while. However, the Warriors have been known to run errands and come back pretty quickly – and that’s exactly what they did. Andrew Wiggins drew 2 fouls on Jokic which took him to 4 in the game and quarter alone. Then Draymond Green hit a 3 that was followed by two Steph Curry 3s, and the only response the Nuggets had was another Will Barton layup. Malone was slow to call a timeout and let the Warriors get back into the rhythm and find themselves at just 1 within minutes. The Nuggets still lead 68-67, but the dynamic was changing in San Francisco.
However, two players kept the Nuggets alive – Aaron Gordon and Demarcus fucking Cousins. Aaron Gordon had 3 offensive rebounds in the final 3 minutes, including two on a possession where Will Barton knocked down a 3 after three more missed shots, and Demarcus Cousins came on to play. He amassed 7 points in the last 2 minutes of the quarter including a 3 to finish it. The Nuggets again survived non-Jokic minutes thanks to Boogie. The Nuggets lead 78-70 going into the final frame.
The final frame opened up with Klay Thompson hitting a jumper, and Otto Porter finally hitting a three to bring the game down to just 3. Then Bones Hyland joined Rivers to get injured from what should have been a foul by Draymond Green . Then Demarcus Cousins scored 4 runs, which were answered with two cuts by the Warriors. It made it a 4 point game and Jokic came back. He had suffered a hamstring injury but Boogie had rested well. However, he immediately committed his fifth foul and returned to the bench. Boogie came back in the game and it was a three point deficit. However, Klay hit a back jump and it went down to 1. The Nuggets call timeout and lead 84-83. Jokic was still obviously hampered and not feeling well.
The Nuggets came out of timeout and couldn’t score. A few lazy defensive rotations from Jeff Green left Gary Payton open for a 3 after blocking a Bones Hyland 3 at the other end. After that, neither team could quite find their footing. Jokic came back but didn’t look for his own shot for a while as his hamstrings were really bothering him. Eventually, the Warriors called a timeout after some missed jumps from Steph Curry. The Warriors lead 86-84. The Nuggets hadn’t scored for about 4 minutes by then.
The Nuggets allowed Klay Thompson to the cup against a hobbled Jokic, but then Jokic took matters into his own hands. He himself kept pace with the Warriors, but no one else was scoring with him. He had some ridiculous shots, but the Warriors scored right away. Denver took a timeout 4 with one minute and thirty to go. Outside of timeout, Jokic hit a floater. However, Gary Payton II hit three more on Jeff Green to put the Warriors up five. Jokic hit another hotly contested shot, but with the season on the line, Steph Curry turned the corner and hit a layup to put the Warriors in a five-man streak with just 30 seconds to go. Jokic missed a 3, then the free throw game began. The Nuggets eventually lost it, and the series in stride. Denver is now going home, but they can know that they have struggled in the last 3 games and this game could have gone differently if not for a hamstring injury or two. Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors.