Nuggets beat Suns 118-102 in Game 5 to regain series lead

·4 min read

DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had a triple-double after making up with Suns owner Mat Ishbia and Michael Porter Jr. sank five 3-pointers to help the Denver Nuggets beat Phoenix 118-102 on Tuesday night for a 3-2 series lead.

Joker had 29 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists for his 10th career playoff triple-double, breaking a tie with Wilt Chamberlain for most by a centre in NBA history.

“To be honest, I just like to win the game, so whatever it takes,” said Jokic, who was coming off a career-best 53-point performance in Game 4.

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Game 6 is Thursday night in Phoenix.

“If we play the way we did today," Jokic said, "we're going to have a chance” to close out the series and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the NBA bubble in 2020.

The Suns are confident they can shake this one off just like they did in bouncing back from two losses in Denver last week.

“Yeah. I’ve been in here a couple of times now," Phoenix star Devin Booker said. "I love it. Every game has is its own character. Every game is its own movie, its own different preparation and everything to go with it. We’re going to watch over film, see how we can be better for Game 6.”

The home team has won every game in the series. If that holds true again, the decisive winner-take-all clash will come Sunday back in Denver, where the top-seeded Nuggets own the NBA’s best home record at 40-7, including 6-0 in the playoffs.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone devised a five-point plan for the Nuggets to regain control of the series after losing two in Phoenix: patch up their transition defence, slow down Booker, get more from his bench, unleash MPJ and knock down open 3s.

Check, check, check, check and check.

Porter bounced back from a quiet night in Game 4 with 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from long-range. Denver outscored Phoenix 31-23 in fast-break points; Booker scored 28 points but missed 11 of 19 shots; Bruce Brown boosted the Nuggets' bench with 25 points and the Nuggets sank 13 of 27 from long-range.

Jamal Murray added 19 points for Denver, and Kevin Durant chipped in 26 points for Phoenix but also had an uncharacteristic five turnovers.

The Nuggets turned a three-point halftime lead into a 91-74 cushion with a dominant third quarter in which Jokic made seven of eight shots for 17 points and Booker was just 1-for-8 for 3 points.

The chippiness of the series reached a new level in the final minute of the third quarter when Nuggets swingman Brown antagonized the Suns as they huddled up on the court and Durant gave Jokic a forearm shiver. A double technical was assessed on Durant and Brown.

"Just to see what they were drawing up,” Jokic said when asked why he and Brown were spying on the Suns.

Durant called the dust-up "absolutely nothing, it wasn't anything serious. They were excited, they were up big and we were trying to draw up some stuff. So, it was nothing.”

So, no need for a hug and a handshake next time they play.

Before this game, Jokic shared a warm pre-game embrace — and the basketball — with Ishbia 48 hours after their kerfuffle over a loose ball in Phoenix in Game 4 resulted in a technical foul and a $25,000 fine for the Nuggets big man.

“I was hoping he was going to pay my fine,” Jokic cracked after the game.

“I think he's just making light of a situation that was way overblown,” Malone said. "The NBA handled it the right way and I give their owner, Mat Ishbia, a lot of credit when he came out after the game and said, ‘Listen, I don’t want anyone to be suspended. Let's let the players decide this on the court.' So, kudos to him for that.

“But yeah, I think it just speaks to Nikola's personality and him being a little bit of a smart-alec.”

The NBA had stickers placed on the first several rows of seats — including Ishbia's — reminding spectators, especially those close to the action, of its fan code of conduct policy and a reminder that violations could result in ejection and revocation of tickets.

TIP-INS

Suns: Seated courtside alongside Ishbia was Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker, derisively known in much of Colorado as “Midnight Mel” for his departure from the Buffaloes job only hours after telling boosters he was in Boulder to stay.

Nuggets: This marked the first game in the series that the leader after one quarter held on to win the game. … Among the VIPs in attendance was Broncos new head coach Sean Payton, his quarterback Russell Wilson and John Calipari, who coached Booker and Murray at Kentucky.

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Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press