3 bold Nuggets predictions for pivotal Game 5 vs. Suns

The Denver Nuggets seemed to be well on their way to the Western Conference Finals after two impressive performances at home to take a 2-0 series lead over the Phoenix Suns heading into the road. But now, Devin Booker and the Suns have come storming back, tying the series at two games apiece after two incredibly efficient performances at home. With the series now being a Best-of-3, we’ll be making a few predictions for how the Nuggets respond to this kind of adversity.

It’s not like the Nuggets, specifically Nikola Jokic, didn’t play well enough for a victory in Games 3 and 4. In Game 3, Jokic, Jamal Murray, and even Michael Porter Jr. showed up, with the Joker dropping a 30-17-17 masterclass and Murray pitching in with 32 of his own. But the Nuggets simply could not keep up with Booker and Kevin Durant, who combined for 86 of the Suns’ 121 points back on Friday night.

This continued in Game 3; the Nuggets simply cannot stop Booker and Durant. The Suns shooting guard could not miss from the field yet again, and Durant bounced back from an uncharacteristic performance from the field, combatting an eye-popping 53-point performance from the 2023 NBA MVP runner-up.

In Games 1 and 2, the Nuggets looked like they were following the 2022 Dallas Mavericks blueprint of forcing the Suns into tough skip passes towards the opposite corner. But in Games 3 and 4, that didn’t even matter, as Devin Booker and Kevin Durant kept carving up the Nuggets defense from everywhere on the court. Heck, even Landry Shamet came to play in Game 4.

It’ll take more than just one prayer for the Nuggets to slow either Booker or Durant down. In front of a raucous Ball Arena, however, the Nuggets should have the requisite energy to come out firing even with the momentum having shifted towards the Suns’ favor.

Here are a few bold predictions for how the Nuggets perform in a crucial Game 5 against the Suns on Tuesday night.

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Nikola Jokic encore

Nikola Jokic played out of his mind in Game 4, tallying a career-high 53 points, powering the Nuggets’ every offensive possession with his feathery touch around the hoop. Jokic thoroughly dominated the Suns interior, and the only way the Suns could retaliate against his offensive exploits was to outscore them with even more star power (which they did).

Given how well Jokic has been playing, there’s no reason to expect him to taper off.  It looks like the Suns have landed on a defensive strategy that works for them — allowing the Joker to feast, while doing their best to stifle the Nuggets supporting cast — which definitely bodes well for the chances of yet another similar scoring outburst.

(There’s a chance, no matter how slim it may be, that the league suspends Jokic for his altercation with Suns governor Mat Ishbia, but that would be a perplexing decision.)

The Suns have also utilized Jock Landale more often; Landale may have had huge spells of defense against Nikola Jokic, but the gap in quality between the two teams’ big men rivals that of the gap between both ends of the political spectrum.

It’s unfair to expect Jokic to drop yet another 50+ point masterclass in Game 5. But his production may not end up being too far off of the best scoring performance of his life.

The Nuggets bench comes alive

The Nuggets have done the unthinkable — make the Suns bench look like an actual helpful supporting cast. Throughout the 2023 playoffs, the Suns have predominantly been the Devin Booker show. Booker has arguably been the best player in the entire playoffs thus far, boasting an exceptional two-way skillset that he hasn’t really displayed in the past to this level. But the Suns bench has been atrocious, especially in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers.

In Game 2 against the Nuggets, the Suns bench scored a mere four points, which is a borderline unprecedented level of putridity. However, something began to click late in Game 3. The aforementioned Landale had a huge impact on defense and on the boards, while TJ Warren made some buckets in the clutch to help the Suns hold onto the lead. And then in Game 4, the Suns received 40 points from the bench, led by a blistering shooting performance from Landry Shamet.

The Suns’ bench has, inexplicably, outplayed the Nuggets’, and this cannot continue if the Nuggets want to take care of business. Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, and Christian Braun, the only three bench players that head coach Michael Malone have trusted in this playoff run, will have to do better than whatever it was they mustered in Games 3 and 4.

Nuggets hold Devin Booker and Kevin Durant to less than 60 combined points

With how well the Suns’ superstar duo has been playing, holding them to less than 60 points combined seems like an impossible task. But the Nuggets did this in Games 1 and 2, and they will need to do so again in Game 5 for them to grab a convincing win. Leaving the fate of the game hanging in the balance in crunch time, like they did in Games 3 and 4, will not be such an enticing option for the Nuggets given how easily Booker and Durant can manufacture quality shots out of nothing.

The Nuggets will need Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to ratchet up the defensive intensity for this to materialize.

The post 3 bold Nuggets predictions for pivotal Game 5 vs. Suns appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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