PORTLAND, Ore. — A historically hot start from Michael Porter Jr. to launch Game 6 Thursday at Moda Center helped the Nuggets hold on until Nikola Jokic sent Portland packing.
Denver’s 126-115 win put the Nuggets back in the conference semifinals for a third straight season where they will face Phoenix Suns. The Nuggets held Portland to 14 points in the fourth quarter, while Jokic and Monte Morris closed with the two-man game that was integral to Denver’s win in Game 5.
“That’s how you close out a game. I thought Monte Morris late and Nikola Jokic late were phenomenal,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
“Michael Porter early was terrific, and Aaron Gordon’s corner 3 was a big, big shot.”
Gordon’s make from the corner put Denver up 9 within the final minute, securing the victory, while Porter’s start helped the Nuggets keep it close early. Porter hit his first five 3-pointers and scored 17 of Denver’s first 20 points.
“He’s a special, phenomenal talent,” Morris said. “You know, we’ve all seen that guy who all he needs to see one go in, if that. He’s always hot, ready to shoot. He kept us in the game, got us going. Without him, I think that first quarter is a little tougher and not as close.”
His sixth 3-pointer in the first quarter came with 3:24 left in the period and tied an NBA playoff record for made 3s in a quarter, while his 22 points were the most in the first quarter of a playoff game in 25 years, per ESPN Stats and Info.
The Nuggets played the second half of the first quarter without Jokic after he picked up his second foul, and Denver trailed by four after the first quarter.
“The same way he has our back in taking over games late, when he’s struggling at the beginning of the game or gets in foul trouble, he has to be able to count on us, and we’ve got to come through,” Porter said.
“I think we weathered the storm pretty well until he got back out there.”
Jokic’s first 3-pointer made it a four-point game late in the second quarter, but Portland’s Damian Lillard hit a step-back 3 to give the hosts a 68-61 halftime lead.
“I said at halftime, ‘We have to get Nikola going.’” Malone said. “He got into the early foul trouble. He only took seven shots in the first half. Our best player can’t have seven shots at halftime, and I liked his energy. He was much more aggressive to catch, face (and) attack Nurkic. They want small and put a small guy on him, he was aggressive, backing down to the basket, scoring.
"When you see an aggressive Nikola Jokic, that is a welcomed sight because he’s going to score or get somebody else a wide-open shot. That’s what makes him great, in my book.
Portland stretched the lead to 14 in the third quarter, but Jokic was just getting going.
"I was just calm," Jokic said of his mindset after a tough start. "Slow and steady wins the race."
Jokic scored 20 of his game-high 36 points in the third quarter and finished with seventh in the fourth quarter, as the Nuggets erased the lead and eventually took an 11-point lead on a Jokic finish around the hoop with 3:20 left to play. Jokic added eight rebounds and six assists.
“His touch is crazy. I haven’t seen nobody with touch like that,” Morris said. “The way he passes the ball, you know, he’s the MVP for sure, hands down. It’s just crazy to see.”
Lillard Portland with 28 points, while C.J. McCollum and Norman Powell scored 21 and 17 points, respectively.
Porter finished with 26 points — all in the first half — while Morris added 22 points and nine assists. Gordon added 13 points and seven rebounds, while JaMychal Green and Facundo Campazzo added 10 points apiece.
“We got a lot of dudes who are tough players, man. Like me, I had my moment in the first half, and then, you know, I cooled off for the rest of the game. I don’t think I scored. Jok(ic) obviously took over, but then the way Austin (Rivers) and AG (Gordon) had their moments, and then Monte and J-Myke, we just got a lot of dudes that are capable, very capable, and we’re real deep. It was definitely a total team effort tonight.”