NBA Playoffs Insights into Nuggets vs. Suns Game 5: Is Nikola Jokic driving Monty Williams nuts?

The series between the Nuggets and Suns continues to be very different in Denver than in Phoenix – it’s no coincidence. That means the Suns have their backs to the wall after a significant loss in Game 5.

Nikola Jokic could force Suns coach Monty Williams to make almost impossible decisions. The insights into Game 5 between the Nuggets and Suns.

The Nuggets’ home field advantage is real – and at its maximum

That the home field advantage of the Nuggets in the Mile High City is a special one is not new. No other arena in the league comes close to the height in Denver. The air there is unfamiliar for guests, who consequently have problems with their stamina. But how does this home advantage turn out in the playoffs? The game is sometimes slower there, but the starters play more minutes than usual and thus reach their limits in the high altitude air.

This was evident in Game 5 between the Nuggets and Suns. While the Suns were very successful at the fast break during Games 3 and 4 in Phoenix and had a 12-point and 10-point advantage there, respectively, the tide turned in Denver. Especially in the first quarter, the Nuggets overran the Suns with fast attacks, Michael Porter Jr. took advantage of this and scored 14 points in the first 9 minutes.

Nuggets-Coach Mike Malone already emphasized in the run-up to game 5that the fastbreak defense would decide the series and mentioned that Devin Booker had scored 10 points per game in transition alone until then.

Denver had an advantage in the fast break in Game 5 with 32:23 points, the Suns already seemed exhausted at times in the second quarter. It must be added that Devin Booker appeared to injure his foot in the first half, Deandre Ayton reported pain in his ribs after the game due to a collision in the early stages.

Overall, the Suns make a battered impression, but it still applies: Of the remaining teams in the playoffs, they are currently most dependent on points in the fast break, which makes the home advantage in Denver even greater. However, that may change if a certain hip injury heals sufficiently in the next few days.

NBA Playoffs: Without Chris Paul, the Suns have almost no chance in Denver

With 121 and 129 points in Phoenix, it was almost impossible to forget during Games 3 and 4 that the Suns were running on point guard without their 12-time All-Star. After two quite clear defeats in Denver, the mood of the series turned completely, Malone even explained from the Nuggets’ point of view: “It feels like we’re trailing 0-3.”

Then the Suns had to go back to Denver, and Chris Paul missed every minute of Game 5. At 38, he’s certainly not as dynamic as, for example, Cameron Payne in the fast break, but in the half field he can support Booker and Kevin Durant more and help the entire team to better finishes.

“It’s not an attack on Chris Paul because Chris Paul is one of the best players of all time. But the Suns play so much faster without him,” Malone emphasized before Game 5, in which the Suns would have preferred to play slower but with Paul . And not just because Booker, Durant and Shamet all got into trouble with four fouls each in the third quarter.

Paul has been sidelined since Game 1 due to a strain on his left hip, and he hasn’t said much about the upcoming do-or-die in Phoenix. “We’ll see if I play. I’ll try,” he said after Game 5 only.

As long as the Suns can play with Booker and Durant in reasonable condition, they won’t be without a chance in any game. After all, the two form the best scoring duo on the planet and can play 80 points or more together in every game. That would probably be the only hope for the Suns in a Game 7 if it comes to that and Paul isn’t there to change the tactical situation.

NBA Playoffs: Is Nikola Jokic driving Monty Williams to despair?

Nikola Jokic apparently buried the hatchet with Mat Ishbia ahead of Game 5, he jokingly tossed a ball to the Suns’ owner before the game and greeted him on the sidelines. The two appeared to hit it off after the Game 4 altercation, but Jokic’s subsequent performance must have left Ishbia frustrated.

He posted 29 points (12/20 FG), 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game 5 against the Suns, but that triple-double only represents his third or fourth-best performance of the series. At any point it seemed like he could break the 50 mark again if the need arose. His opponent isn’t an aging veteran, but a former top pick who’s made over $32 million this year.

We’re talking, of course, about Ayton, who also played a solid series against the Clippers. However, he can hardly offer any resistance against Jokic and he hardly has a positive influence on the game of the Suns offensively either. In Game 4 he even had to watch the closing stages from the bench while his substitute Jock Landale helped the team win.

There was no decisive final phase in game 5, so Williams was probably spared a difficult decision. But how will this situation continue? If Ayton plays poorly again in Game 6, Landale will certainly get longer chances to do better again. Could Ayton even come off the bench? His contract alone makes that almost impossible, but coaches have done crazier things with their backs to the wall.

2023-05-10 12:01:34
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