Nuggets-Timberwolves: 5 takeaways as Nikola Jokic puts on show in Game 5 win

Nikola Jokic goes for 40 points, 7 rebounds and 13 assists as the Nuggets take a 3-2 series lead on the Wolves.

• Download the NBA App

DENVER — This series was flipped, turned on its head, spun around and dominated in a suddenly one-sided contest.

But we’ll get to what Nikola Jokic did to Rudy Gobert in a minute.

First: A game can make all the difference in changing the direction of an NBA playoff series. So what about a week, then?

Because in this Western Conference semifinal, the Nuggets and Wolves have collectively swapped spots in seven dizzying days. The Nuggets, once reeling, are rolling.

They were down 2-0, but the surging defending champions have flexed and the Wolves are down to their last chance. The series is going back to Minneapolis, but it is 3-2 Denver and all signs point in the Nuggets’ direction.

Here are five takeaways from the Nuggets’ 112-97 Game 5 victory Tuesday:

1. Jokic lifts MVP trophy, then drops Gobert

It was a coronation in more ways than one Tuesday — Jokic officially accepted the Kia MVP trophy from commissioner Adam Silver, then showed why he was worthy of it for the third time in four years.

His takedown of Gobert on the same night will be remembered for how rude and timely it was.

The Nuggets needed this from their multi-skilled center to seize control of the series, and it happened against the freshly-named Kia Defensive Player Of The Year.

What we learned is that not all trophies are created equally. As good a defensive player Gobert might be, he does not have a history of stopping Jokic, and nothing changed in that regard in Game 5.

Jokic scored 20 of his points against Gobert, going 8-for-9 against him by scoring on finger rolls, up-and-unders, hook shots, bank shots and outside jumpers. He threw nifty passes — full-length, pocket, and back-door ones — in an overall masterclass by someone who, at this pace, could make a claim to be top 10 all-time.

“He probably belongs to Mensa,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, saluting Jokic’s hoop awareness. “He probably doesn’t know what Mensa is.”

Jokic had his first 40-point game of these playoffs, along with 13 assists and zero turnovers.

In defense of Gobert, no one in the last five or so seasons has managed to silence Jokic, especially when it mattered.

“I just laugh, that’s all I can do,” said Wolves star Anthony Edwards. “I can’t be mad … he was special tonight.”

2. Denver’s offense becomes the bully

Remember way back in, oh, the second game of this series when the Wolves flexed their No. 1-rated defensive muscle and completely bamboozled the Nuggets? Well, guess who’s the heavy now?

“That Game 2 served as a great reminder of who we need to get back to being,” said Malone.

The Nuggets have figured it out and are back to their blueprint — ball movement, pick-and-roll with Jokic and Jamal Murray, backdoor cuts for dunks by Aaron Gordon, and of course, Jokic scoring in a variety of ways.

For the third straight game, the Nuggets shot over 50% from the floor and 40% on 3-pointers. That’s an astonishing about-face against Minnesota. It showed no mercy on defense all season — not only in the first two games of this series but especially against the Phoenix Suns in the first round.

The Nuggets were held to 80 points and 34.9% shooting (30% from deep) in Game 2, and their composure was rocked. That’s when Murray tossed the heating pad on the floor. Since then, the Nuggets have tossed aside all the traps and double-teams and rim protection by the Wolves.

“Everything is going their way,” said Edwards.

3. Edwards humbled, finally

It was a scoring and impressive run while it lasted. Edwards spent much of this spring on a trampoline, his reputation soaring with almost every game, his name being mentioned, perhaps prematurely, with some of the greats.

That will be hushed, at least for now. He finally landed back on Earth with his first ordinary — some might even say sub-par — performance of the playoffs. He struggled, especially in the first half when he missed seven of eight shots with three turnovers.

Hey, it was bound to happen. And what an untimely one it was for the Wolves, who entered the game on their heels and exited it on their backs.

Edwards had three 40-pieces in his previous five playoff games. He had a hard-fought 18 Tuesday. If he follows his latest performance with something similar on Thursday, he might need to wait until next season to atone.

The absence of Minnesota’s veteran point guard allows Denver to focus its full defensive attention on Anthony Edwards.

4. Mike Conley was missed

The veteran Wolves point guard was a scratch due to a sore Achilles which he suffered in the closing moments of Game 4. With just one off-day between games, Conley won’t have the luxury of much rest, which is paramount for that type of injury.

So there’s a chance he could miss Game 6 as well. That’s a tough blow for a Wolves team that, until now, has had relatively good health with the prime players in the rotation.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker was decent as a replacement, but he’s more effective coming off the bench, not commanding the 39 minutes he was given Tuesday.

5. Paging Michael Porter Jr.

Somehow, the Nuggets have won three straight rather convincingly without much from their third 20-point scorer. Porter was ineffective again Tuesday, missing eight of 10 shots for six points. This is on the heels of a quiet four-point outing in Game 4.

What’s surprising is Porter was sensational against the Lakers in the first round — LeBron James admitted Porter was one of the reasons the Lakers lost in five games — only to become a non-factor now.

One sequence summed up his night and this series: Porter tried to shake free of the defense, pulled up for a jumper and … airball. His flaws, mainly related to an inability to create off the dribble, are showing. The Wolves aren’t allowing him room on the catch-and-shoot, unlike the Lakers.

But the Nuggets are in control regardless. Minnesota must win two straight games. What are the odds of the Wolves pulling that off twice in a single series — against the MVP?

* * *

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

First appeared on

Leave a Comment