Recap: Despite Nikola Jokic’s Herculean Effort, Denver Falls in Game 5 102-98

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets fought hard, but it just wasn’t enough as they get eliminated from the playoffs

The Nuggets fought hard in this game. They made this series interesting despite being hugely outclassed in the first two games, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as they fall in 5 games to the Golden State Warriors. Nikola Jokic had a herculean effort with 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 8 assists in just 32 minutes because he did most of that on a bum hamstring. Add on the fact that Austin Rivers had an injury as well, and already depleted Nuggets were depleted further. They made it a close game in the end though, and only lost 102-98. They can go home with their heads held high.

First Quarter

The Nuggets sought to set a tone early. They wanted to be aggressive and draw fouls. They succeeded in doing this through Aaron Gordon early on. He got 6 free throws in less than 3 minutes to start the game off. Throw in Nikola Jokic also doing his thing early, and the Nuggets were scoring at a good pace. However, the Warriors are the Warriors and started their death lineup. With Austin Rivers not starting, the Nuggets didn’t have a great matchup and it showed early. Klay Thompson got to the line 4 times, recorded 3 assists and a basket. Steph Curry bombed two 3s off screens, and Wiggins also got 5 points and a 3 early on. This all happened in the first 6 minutes. It forced Denver into a timeout after the score got 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 that Malone started with, and he rolled out what I thought should’ve been the starting lineup and replaced Jeff Green with Austin Rivers. It made an impact and made the Warriors’ job on offense harder immediately. However, the Nuggets were making a lot of miscommunications on offense that resulted in turnover that just shouldn’t have happened. Aaron Gordon also got called for a weak technical foul, where Draymond Green grabbed him and it was somehow not Draymond’s fault. After that, the technical free throw was missed and the Nuggets continued to catch up with Aaron Gordon getting an and-1 and Monte Morris knocking down a 3.

However, momentum was brought to a halt when Austin Rivers got beat by Steph Curry on a backdoor cut and immediately limped to the locker room. After he went out there was only 2 points scored in the last 2 minutes of the quarter by the Nuggets. They also let up some good looks to the Warriors the didn’t convert and one Jordan Poole and-1 that they did. All in all, the Nuggets were fortunate to only be down by 5. Will Barton had missed some shots he can make and played bad defense, and outside of Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic the team had only made 2 field goals, both of which came from Monte Morris. The Warriors lead 30-25 after the first.

Second Quarter

The Nuggets decided to go with an all-bench lineup to start the second quarter, and it’s not the one you think. Malone played Facu/Forbes/Bones/JMyke/Boogie and it played defense as well as you think it did. The Nuggets luckily only gave up 6 points in the first 3 minutes, but it could’ve easily been 12 as they gave Klay Thompson 2 open 3s he just missed. The lineup didn’t play well offensively; only scoring 5 points in the same amount of time. Malone made the adjustment to stagger out of a timeout shortly after the 9 minute mark to subbing in Will Barton and Aaron Gordon.

Out of the timeout the bench went to Demarcus Cousins who drew a foul, and was playing very well. He knocked down both free throws to put himself at 6 points. Boogie rebounded and scored another basket. Will Barton pitched in a pair of free throws, and the Nuggets then brought Jokic and Jeff Green back in. Steph Curry scored a basket, but Aaron Gordon responded with an and-1 layup off a dime from Joker. Aaron Gordon had really changed the tide of the series and had redeemed his early struggles in the series ten fold.

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 questionable to return with right hamstring soreness, the Nuggets were much more disciplined on that end. They made a few errant turnovers, but finished the quarter strong enough to bring it to halftime at 48 a piece. Nikola Jokic hadn’t even gotten going and they were still keeping pace with Golden State. It was far from the worst it could’ve been, but the Nuggets would need their MVP to step up if they were going to create separation.

It just speaks to how good Jokic is that 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists on 56% from the field was underwhelming. Some other Nuggets are Aaron Gordon sitting on 15 points with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block and a steal, and Demarcus Cousins with 8 points and 3 rebounds. The team as a whole was not shooting well only shooting 40% from the field and 21% from 3. They had held the Warriors to 40% from the field and only 33% from 3 though, so their defense was coming through in a huge way. The big separator between the two teams was the Nuggets had taken 20 free throws to the Warriors 7. All in all the Nuggets and Warriors entered the half tied with 48 points each.

Third Quarter

The second half started with Jeff Green throwing down a lob from Jokic. Andrew Wiggins responded with a basket, but Will Barton got a layup off of a nice Aaron Gordon pass. Then came Nikola Jokic, first he scored an easy bucket and he followed it up with a tip pass to Monte Morris for Monte’s second 3 pointer of the game. The Warriors were starting to lose the rope, and though they were scoring a bit — the Nuggets were scoring more. The Warriors called a timeout just 3 minutes into the half.

The momentum started swinging towards the Nuggets with Jokic scoring another 4 points quickly, and Will Barton putting in another layup. They got the lead up to 10 points and Chase Center got quiet for a moment. However, the Warriors are known to make runs and come back rather quick — and that’s exactly what they did. Andrew Wiggins drew 2 fouls on Jokic which brought him up to 4 in the game and the quarter alone. Then Draymond Green hit a 3 which was followed by two Steph Curry 3s, and the only answer the Nuggets had was another Will Barton layup. Malone was slow to call a timeout and let the Warriors get back into a groove and find themselves down only 1 in a matter of minutes. Nuggets still lead 68-67, but the momentum was shifting in San Francisco.

Two players kept the Nuggets alive though — Aaron Gordon and Demarcus fricking Cousins. Aaron Gordon got 3 offensive rebounds during the last 3 minutes, two of which came on a possession where Will Barton knocked down a 3 after three other missed shots, and Demarcus Cousins came to play. He had 7 points in the last 2 minutes of the quarter including a 3 to end it. The Nuggets survived non-Jokic minutes once again thanks to Boogie. Nuggets lead 78-70 going into the final frame.

Fourth Quarter

The final frame opened with Klay Thompson hitting a jumper, and Otto Porter finally hitting a three to bring the game to only 3. Then Bones Hyland joined Rivers in getting hurt off of what should have been a Draymond Green foul. Then Demarcus Cousins scored 4 points, answered by two cuts by the Warriors. It made it a 4 point game, and Jokic came back in. He had dealt with a hamstring injury but Boogie had provided good rest. However, he picked up his fifth foul immediately and went back to the bench. Boogie came back into the game and it was a three point deficit. However, Klay hit a step back jumper and it got down to 1. Nuggets call timeout and lead 84-83. Jokic was still obviously hobbled and wasn’t feeling right.

The Nuggets came out of the timeout and couldn’t score. Some lazy defensive rotations by Jeff Green left Gary Payton open for a 3 after he blocked a Bones Hyland 3 on the other end. After that, neither team could quite find their footing. Jokic came back in but wasn’t hunting for his own shot for a bit, as his hamstring was really bothering him. Eventually the Warriors called a timeout after a few missed jumpers from Steph Curry. Warriors lead 86-84. The Nuggets hadn’t scored in about 4 minutes at that point.

The Nuggets allowed Klay Thompson to get to the cup against a hobbled Jokic, but then Jokic took matters into his own hands. He kept pace with the Warriors himself, but no one else was scoring with him. He hit some ridiculous shots, but the Warriors scored right back. Denver took a timeout down 4 with a minute thirty to go. Out of the timeout Jokic hit a floater. However, Gary Payton II hit another three over Jeff Green to put the Warriors up five. Jokic hit another very contested shot, but with the season on the line, Steph Curry got around the corner and hit a layup to put the Warriors back up by five with just 30 seconds to go. Jokic missed a 3, and then the free throw game commenced. The Nuggets ultimately lost it, and the series in the process. Denver now goes home, but they can know that they fought in the last 3 games, and that this game may have turned out different without a hamstring injury or two. Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors.

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