Luka Doncic tried Michael Porter Jr. for the first time at the nine-minute mark of Friday’s first quarter.
Porter’s defensive assignment, Derrick Jones Jr., migrated up to set a screen on Jamal Murray, Doncic’s original defender on the play. Doncic then dribbled a few times to his left once he got Porter switched onto him and settled for a step-back 3 over Porter’s outstretched 6-11 frame.
Doncic tried Porter again a couple of minutes later. This time, Nikola Jokic and Porter closed in on Doncic after the Mavs negotiated another switch and forced the ball out of his hands.
Another Mavs miss.
At the 6:49 mark of the first quarter, Doncic went at Porter 1-on-1 without any Nuggets help. Doncic drove to his right but couldn’t shake Porter and committed his second of his nine turnovers in the Nuggets’ 125-114 win.
Check out the compilation of Porter’s defense from last night put together by Matt Brooks from Nuggets.com.
Porter was phenomenal defensively against Doncic and Dallas. A key part of Doncic’s game plan was to isolate Porter in the pick-and-roll and go at him 1-on-1 to generate what he thought would be easy offense.
But Doncic found little success going at Porter.
Doncic shot just 2-8 from the floor and turned it over five times with Porter as his primary defender.
Porter earned the Nuggets’ Defensive Player of the Game chain for his efforts. He also registered 11 total contests, two blocks, and two deflections in the Nuggets’ fifth win of the season.
“I thought Michael had his fingerprints all over the win tonight,” Michael Malone said.
Porter’s defensive ascension has been one of the coolest stories to document throughout this era of Nuggets basketball. Last season, Porter completely bought in on the defensive end of the floor. He committed to being a better defender.
Then in the playoffs, teams rarely focused their game plans around going at him 1-on-1, which had been the default strategy with Porter on the floor over the previous couple of seasons.
Porter spoke postgame last night to his defensive leap and buy-in.
“Part of it is experience, he said. “Playing against certain players, just being out there on the floor more over the years, you naturally get better. Part of it has to do with how I feel physically. My ankle doesn’t feel 100%, but I’ve kind of figured out how I should be playing guys on defense in ISO situations. And that’s not crowding them. It’s using my length.
“I think it’s just something you get better with over time. It’s something I’ve had to get better at to be on this team and to fill the role that I need to fill.”
Porter’s upgrade in status to a plus-defender, which he’s mostly been throughout last year’s playoff run and so far this season, changes everything for the Nuggets. It disintegrates a key aspect of every opponent’s offensive game plan.
There’s now no weak defensive link in Denver’s starting five. There’s no one for the defense to target and go at. The Nuggets’ first five is now airtight.
And of course, they’re going to score almost every time on the other end of the floor.
Porter takes a lot of pride in his defense. In games like this one, that shows. He knows to play for Malone and to be on the floor at the end of games he has to limit his mistakes and hold his own defensively.
In the past, not closing games has been a source of frustration for Porter. Of course, he always wants to be on the floor in crunch time.
But he’s tried to take that coaching decision into his own hands.
“We all want to be in those moments,” Porter said, “That’s the time when defense is most important. So if you’re not going to contribute on that side, you shouldn’t be out there. And that’s why I’ve made such an effort to continue to improve on that end.
“Because those are the moments I want to be in. Honestly, defense in those moments wins you a lot of games in the playoffs. And ultimately, it’s why we won a championship.”