The Nuggets might have too many pieces for the Trail Blazers to deal with.
In Tuesday’s 124-98 Game 5 win, it was a combination of Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic that moved Denver one game away from the Western Conference finals and pushed Portland one game closer to the offseason.
Murray and Jokic have been guiding the Nuggets’ offense all year and this postseason has been no different. The Joker has been one of the best players in the 2019 playoffs and Murray has consistently reminded the masses of his brilliance every time people are ready to question if he is too unreliable to take Denver deep into the playoffs.
On Tuesday though, Millsap and Harris put the wheels in motion for the Nuggets while Jokic and Murray supplied the nitrous oxide that allowed them to pull away.
Millsap and Harris are the pulses of the league’s 10th best defense, and that was on display once more. As the game waned on, Portland had more and more difficulty getting the ball in the rim. Harris led the charge on the perimeter and Millsap filled in every gap he could while calling shots in the back.
For the fourth straight game, Harris helped keep Damian Lillard below 30% on his three-point attempts. Millsap provided rim protection and a quality set of hands that always got the ball to a teammate if he couldn’t corral the rock himself.
That was expected though. It was their offense that made this such a thumping.
Millsap put together the most efficient season of his career since he left Utah, but his raw production took a dip as he had one of the lowest usage rates of his career. He finished with 24 points Tuesday, which was the second-highest total of the game, trailing only Jokic. But when the Nuggets jumped out to an 18-point halftime lead, Millsap was the leading scorer with 19 points, including a four-point play late in the second quarter that sent the Pepsi Center into a frenzy.
Harris did not have a silver lining on his offensive effort this season, as injuries left him struggling to shoot as well as he did the last three years. His 5-for-12 effort for 16 points in Game 5 didn’t shake the earth, but his quality drives to the rim and general aggressiveness kept Portland’s defense off balance and earned him a few trips to the line, where he was perfect on six shots.
The second-half stomping was guided predominantly by Jokic and Murray. The big man took over as a scorer with nifty moves and cheap putbacks that displayed his control of the glass and added to his 19 rebound total. The point guard attacked hard off picks and set his teammates up for buckets as seen with his nine dimes.
They maintained the crowd’s cheers from when Denver first jumped ahead and put the nail in the coffin Millsap and Harris prepared for burial.
All season the Nuggets kept finding players to step up and provide major contributions as they battled injuries and rose toward the top of the West. So it’s only right that two players who missed a combined 96 games the last two years played such an integral role on such a big night for the team.
Dame and C.J. McCollum will certainly swing much harder with their backs against the wall in Portland on Thursday, but they might have too many targets to hit.
Michael Malone keeps finding ways to utilize all of his players to their full potential. And that has the Nuggets one game away from the West finals.