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Monday, May 29, 2023

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If Nuggets want to win the title, they need Michael Porter Jr. to keep playing like he did in Game 5 vs. Suns

It took a full minute for anyone to put the ball in the basket in Denver on Tuesday night, but Michael Porter Jr. eventually broke the seal when he walked into a wide-open 3-pointer in transition and caught nothing but net. That was just one shot, but, as it turned out, it told you everything you needed to know about Game 5. 

Porter hit five 3-pointers and put up 19 points and eight rebounds in one of his best performances of the postseason, and the Denver Nuggets rolled past the Phoenix Suns, 118-102, to remain perfect at home in the playoffs and take a 3-2 lead in their second-round series. 

This has been an up-and-down series and postseason for Porter. His overall numbers entering Tuesday night — 14.4 points and 7.8 rebounds on 39.7 percent from 3-point land — were solid enough, but he had as many single-digit scoring games (two) as 20-point performances. Furthermore, he was coming off a Game 4 outing in which he scored 11 points on 13 shots and was 2-of-9 from deep. 

In other words, there was no telling which version of Porter the Nuggets were going to get in Game 5, but he pretty quickly made it clear it would be the good version. After scoring the first basket of the game, he poured in 14 points in the first quarter to help the Nuggets get out to an early double-digit lead, which they would maintain for the majority of the night. 

“We met as a staff today and we were talking about how we need somebody to stup up like Lonnie Walker did for the Lakers last night, we need somebody to step up like Landry Shamet did for the Suns in Game 4,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters in Denver after the game. “Michael Porter got us going tonight. I thought Michael Porter’s first quarter was a huge boost to our team and got us off to a great start.”

Porter was certainly aided at times by the Suns’ porous defense, but he was in such an incredible rhythm that his 3s weren’t even touching the rim. It’s also worth noting that while his final line may not sound all that impressive, he left the game for good in the third quarter because the Nuggets were winning so handily. 

That’s not going to happen every game, but the chances increase exponentionally when Porter plays like this. In both the regular season (18-6) and the playoffs (3-1) this season, the Nuggets win 75 percent of their games when he makes at least four 3-pointers, as he did in Game 5. The same is true when you look at points; when Porter scores more than 15, the Nuggets were 28-10 in the regular season and are 4-1 in the playoffs so far. 

Porter’s status as an X-factor for the Nuggets has been obvious for years now, but this is the first season that it’s truly mattered. 

He was a rookie when they went to the Western Conference finals in the bubble, and it was unfair to put much pressure on him given the circumstances; the team never had a chance in the 2021 playoffs due to Jamal Murray’s injury and they were routed by the Suns in the second round; last season, Porter himself was hurt and did not play in the postseason. 

This time around, the Nuggets finally have a legitimate chance to win a title. They have homecourt advantage throughout the Western playoffs (and perhaps the entire way if the Boston Celtics can’t pull off a comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers), a fully healthy roster and no juggernaut standing in their way. 

If this group is ever going to win a title, this is the season to do it. To get it done, they’ll need Porter playing like he did in Game 5 more often than not. 

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