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 in Game 5 to regain the 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.
Game 6 is Thursday night in Phoenix. 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 39-7, including 5-0 in the playoffs.
After Denver lost two straight at Phoenix, Nuggets coach Michael Malone devised a five-point plan for the Nuggets to regain control of the series: patch up their transition defence, slow Devin Booker, get more from his bench, unleash MPJ and knock down open 3s.
Check, check, check, check and check.
Porter bounced back from a bad 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.
Kevin Durant chipped in 26 points for Phoenix.
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 three 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.
Before the game, Jokic shared a warm 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.
The Nuggets jumped out to an early 14-point lead but the Suns trailed just 52-49 at halftime, and the game might have been tied had Booker’s nearly half court heave left his hands just a tick sooner.
The Suns got a scare with 2.4 seconds left in the first quarter when Booker turned his left ankle after getting fouled by Jeff Green on an attempted layup. Several minutes later, the Nuggets got their own scare when Murray turned his right ankle and walked around gingerly, shaking it off to stay in the game.
Suns: Phoenix surrendered the first nine points of the game before Cameron Payne’s long 3-pointer at the 9:33 mark. … 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. … The Nuggets held the Suns without a point for more than two minutes in each of the first three quarters and Phoenix’s first bucket in the fourth quarter came at the 10:16 mark on a bucket by Durant.
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Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press