Mat Ishbia and Nikola Jokic made up during pregame with Jokic cheekily tossing a ball to Ishbia before a handshake.
"I just wanted to make fun at least a little bit. And I was hoping he's gonna pay my [$25,000] fine, but nah."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 10, 2023
Nikola Jokic on giving Mat Ishbia a basketball before Nuggets-Suns Game 5 pic.twitter.com/z20DZr1Pxc
Maybe with everyone at peace, it would be a clean, orderly, and competitive game without any tomfoolery or shenanigans? Wrong. Here’s how the Denver Nuggets took a commanding 3-2 lead over the Phoenix Suns with a 118-102 win.
Denver came out blazing, going on a 15-4 run late in the first quarter to expand on their 9-0 start leaving Phoenix looking for answers, down 15 before the end of one quarter. Suns were able to erase that in a hurry with a 25-10 run, even taking a lead late in the second. Kevin Durant struggled for much of the night, finishing with 26 points on 10-24 shooting, but he scored 10 of his 26 in the second when it felt like a game still.
Phoenix continued a dreadful trend of starting out halves horribly, giving up 35 points in the first quarter and 39 in the third quarter. Eventually, digging yourselves into such a deep hole time and time again wears on you to an extent that you can’t dig out anymore. Denver started the third on a 25-8 run, which would remain the deficit the rest of the way.
With 37.6 seconds left in the tumultuous third, Booker was set to take a free throw for an away-from-the-play foul by the Nuggets. The remaining Suns huddled around Monty Williams for a quick drawn-up play, but Bruce Brown and Nikola Jokic had ideas of intruding the huddle. Durant shoved both, earning a technical for Brown and himself.
Nikola Jokic or Mat Ishbia?— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 10, 2023
Who did it better? pic.twitter.com/4Sfx9gDmzX
Booker hit a tough three and Durant hit a prayer of a long two to close the third on a 5-0 run, but that would end up being just about the final whiff of momentum the Suns would get in this one as the Nuggets maintained their hold the rest of the way.
Jokic told the Inside the NBA crew after the game that the difference between the two games in Phoenix to this one was that Denver became the more desperate aggressors. You could tangibly feel that from the tip and there were only a few minutes where the opposite was true. That has to change when the series shifts back to Footprint Center for game 6.
I was also left wondering where Jock Landale was for much of the game. He played just 12 minutes before adding four more in garbage time and was the team leader in plus/minus before the garbage time as well as after, finishing at +5 while Deandre Ayton, who played 32 hit-or-miss minutes, was a team-worst -21.
Terrence Ross deserves a shoutout for his play, which was the best among all bench contributors for the Suns, finishing with nine points on 3-4 shooting and playing some really solid defense without fouling as much as he used to in similar situations.
On the opposite bench, Bruce Brown was truly a problem for the Suns, scoring 25 points on 7-11 shooting. Phoenix appeared to underestimate him on each of his possessions, which can’t happen again.
Booker had his worst game of this postseason, still better than most of the Suns’ best nights. He scored 28 points on 8-19 shooting, which marked the first time he made fewer than 10 shots and just the third time shooting worse than 50 percent in 10 games.
Between bad games from Booker and Durant and good games from Brown and Michael Porter Jr. (19 points, including 16 in the first half), Phoenix has a lot to hope for in terms of the pendulum swinging back the other way. With home teams undefeated in the series so far, things look good for the Suns in forcing a game 7 when things tip off at 7 AZ time on Thursday.