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As early-season Kia MVP candidates face off, Michael Porter Jr. steals show

Scoring 30 points off the bench, including a late dagger from 3, Michael Porter Jr. unexpectedly captured everyone's attention Monday.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Michael Porter Jr. took full advantage of Jamal Murray’s absence in crunch time.

Forget waiting for the reporters to ask.

Denver coach Michael Malone seized control of the postgame Zoom call after Monday’s 117-113 win over Dallas to extol the clutch performance of budding star Michael Porter Jr., who lit up the Mavericks for 30 points off the bench — including 18 in the second half — to emerge as the leading man in a blockbuster featuring Kia MVP candidates Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic.

“Usually, you guys ask the first five questions about Michael,” Malone said. “So, since you guys haven’t brought it up, I’ll speak about Michael: he was tremendous tonight. We don’t win the game without Michael Porter having the game that he had.”

No doubt about that, as the Nuggets captured their third victory in four nights to run their winning streak to four. They accomplished the feat in the face of Doncic reeling off his 31st career triple-double, which tied John Havlicek for 13th most in NBA history. They did it without Jamal Murray on the floor in a back-and-forth game featuring six lead changes that was tied at 104 with just 4:58 left to play.

Game Recap: Nuggets 117, Mavericks 113

“The bench played really good today,” said Jokic, who registered his sixth straight game with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “They were amazing. He’s making shots. I think the main thing is the confidence that he has. If he takes a tough shot, we kind of think that it can go in. He’s really talented.”

Thanks to Porter’s career-high tying 30 points off the bench in 28 minutes on 10-for-18 from the field and 6-for-10 from deep, Denver’s reserves outscored Dallas’ backups, 63-29.

“I definitely don’t back away from the moment.” Porter said. “I’m just as confident when there’s two minutes left on the clock as when there’s 20 minutes. Sometimes, you’ll make those shots. Sometimes, you’ll miss them. But I know I can get my shot off. So, I’m gonna shoot it if I’m open. That’s what my team expects me to do.”

Denver’s drama all started with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter with it leading 80-73, when Murray was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul after delivering a vicious shot to the groin area of Tim Hardaway Jr. Murray contributed 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting in 25 minutes prior to the ejection. But Hardaway seemed to turn the ejection into a momentum flipping run for Dallas by scoring nine straight points, helping the Mavericks take a two-point lead in just 1:12 of gametime.

Jamal Murray’s ejection via flagrant foul could’ve sank the Nuggets.

That wouldn’t stop Porter from lifting Denver with his seven points in the third quarter, as the Nuggets trailed by just two entering the final frame. Porter shot on 3-for-5 from deep in the fourth quarter for 11 points, including a corner dagger with 41.8 seconds left to put Denver ahead by seven, 114-107.

“I would say as opposed to appreciating it, I expect it,” Malone said. “Michael Porter was a starter at the beginning of the year. Obviously, he missed a ton of time due to COVID[-19] protocols. I think he missed 10 games to start the month of January. We were playing really well at the time. So, I decided to keep him coming off the bench; stay with that group. Everybody gets caught up in who starts. If you have a chance to close a game, that’s more important than hearing your name before a game in an arena with no fans.

“I’m not surprised by anything Michael does. He’s supremely talented. That’s why he earned that starting small forward position. This is one of the games where Michael took over and had big, big plays that allowed us to stay close and ultimately allowed us to win the game at the end.”

That’s quite the turn. During the time away, Porter, who averaged 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds over the first four games, couldn’t even practice or work out with the team.

“He didn’t skip a beat,” said JaMychal Green, who had 17 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench. “I don’t know if he’s got a gym at his own house or whatever, but it seems like he hasn’t missed a game; came back and he’s been playing big for us.”

Porter, 22, entered the league’s health and safety protocol on Dec. 29, and he returned to Denver winning four of six games. With Porter leading the way Monday, the Nuggets bench knocked down 11 of the team’s 15 3-pointers. The bench also accounted for seven of Denver’s nine steals, with Porter chipping in two.

The Nuggets are 9-3 over their last 12 games, and 3-0 with Porter back in the mix.

“My whole mindset just since I started playing was just contribute in any way I can,” Porter said. “Coming back into the rotation, I had been out so long, that was my mindset. I just wanted to come in and give a spark off the bench. Some nights, it’ll be my night. Some nights, it’ll be other people’s night.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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