Denver Nuggets 124, Portland Trail Blazers 98: Takeaways from Game 5

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer

In a crucial Game 5, the Denver Nuggets were firing on all cylinders in a convincing victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Denver rode strong defense, an impressive rebounding advantage and a balanced scoring attack to dismantle the Trail Blazers. Four players scored more than 15 points for Denver, headlined by a 25-point, 19-rebound performance from Nikola Jokić.

"That's part of our culture, being unselfish and making plays for others,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “We're a fun team to watch because we're unselfish. You can tell by watching us play how much we care for each other."

The Nuggets raced out of the gates to an early 9-2 lead as a result of good contests on most of Portland’s shot attempts. Portland started 0 of 6 from the field and finished just 9 of 23 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap was the go-to guy for Denver in the quarter, as he scored 12 early points on his way to another stellar night. Denver took a 31-25 lead into the second quarter.

The second quarter was when the Nuggets took control of the game. On the back of strong shooting, Denver opened up a 10-point lead early in the quarter, which grew to 18 late in the half. The Nuggets connected on four 3-pointers in the quarter and shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half. On the defensive end, Denver held Portland to just 38.3 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three in the half, which led to a 65-47 lead for the Nuggets.

The third quarter was more of the same, as Denver extended the lead to 79-58 midway through the quarter. Denver tightened up the defense even more, as Portland scored just 16 points in the quarter. Ultimately, the Nuggets took a 96-63 lead into the final quarter.

Portland chipped away at Denver’s lead early in the fourth quarter, eventually cutting it down to 20 with eight minutes remaining. However, Malone brought Jokić and Jamal Murray back into the game and the Nuggets built a 24-point lead by the midway point of the quarter. The final five minutes of the game were smooth sailing for the Nuggets, who were able to comfortably wrap the important win.

Key takeaways:

1) Paul Millsap continued stellar play

It was another strong performance from Paul Millsap, who finished with 24 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes of action. The 34-year-old has had consistent success against Portland this season, whether in the regular season or playoffs. “We feel that he's got a good matchup in this series,” Malone said ahead of Game 5. “When you're out there with your second unit, Paul gives you a guy you can go throw who is going to get you a good shot.” Millsap has scored at least 14 points in all five games in the series, which helps Denver’s offense by providing another reliable option to put points on the board.

“We have looked to feature him more and tonight was another example of him taking advantage of that,” Malone said. “He's stepping up when we need him to step up."

Of course, when it comes to the four-time All-Star, it’s not only about his offensive production. Millsap continued his steady defensive play in Game 5, as he finished with one steal and two blocks. Millsap’s ability to hang in the post against opposing big men and switch out on to smaller guards is incredibly valuable for the Nuggets’ defense as they look to contain Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

2) Second quarter was the breaking point

After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Nuggets poured it on in the second, which allowed them to gain control of the pivotal Game 5. Denver outscored Portland 34-22 in the quarter, as a mix of bench players and starters took over. Will Barton connected on two 3-pointers, while Murray scored 11 points in the quarter through a variety of layups and tough jumpers. As mentioned earlier, the Nuggets hit four 3-pointers in the quarter and continued to receive consistent scoring from Millsap, who had seven points in the frame. After a resilient Game 4 win, Denver made sure to follow it up with consistent play on both ends early in Game 5.

"That's the way we play, we're an unselfish team,” Murray said. “We're a well-rounded team so that's why we're in the playoffs and the second-best team in the west."

3) The rebounding advantage continued for Denver

Heading into Game 5, the Nuggets had won the rebounding battle in each of the past four games in the series. That advantage was made even more apparent in the blowout victory on Tuesday, as the Nuggets finished with 61 rebounds to Portland’s 44. Even though Denver didn’t shoot all that well from three (just 8-of-24), grabbing 10 offensive rebounds will give an offense plenty of additional opportunities. As a result of that cold shooting and Denver’s prowess on the offensive glass, the Nuggets shot 75 percent at the rim in Game 5, where 50 percent of their total shot attempts came from.

"What we learned in Game 6 against San Antonio is that they aren't going to roll over just because we've won two games in a row,” Malone said following the comfortable win. “They're going to fight. We've got to bring the fight, physicality and the attack mindset. We've got to be ready to play from the jump."

Game 6 will tip-off at 8:30 p.m. MT in Portland on Thursday and will air on ESPN.


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