Michael Malone called it one of the most consequential plays of Game 1. Nikola Jokic called it simply “playoff basketball.”
Michael Porter Jr.’s pivotal 50-50 loose ball recovery late in the fourth quarter was one of the defining moments from the Nuggets’ 132-126 win over the Lakers. Without it, the Nuggets might be trailing 0-1 in the series right now.
“I just remember getting on the floor for it. It easily could have been a jump ball,” Porter said. “I just tried my hardest to get the ball to my teammates through the crowd.”
He succeeded. Porter was able to shovel the ball off to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who fired it ahead to Jamal Murray, whose pinpoint alley-oop lob from outside the 3-point line feet greeted Aaron Gordon at the rim. Ball Arena erupted.
“It was big. It was very big,” said Murray. “It was a momentum swinger.”
But it all started with Porter’s hustle. If he doesn’t come up with that loose ball, the Nuggets may have choked away the 20+ point lead that they played with for most of Game 1. It would have been an epic and maybe fatal collapse, one that I’m not sure the Nuggets ultimately recover from.
That wasn’t the only extra-effort play that Porter made. Playing through knee soreness and what Porter described postgame as “some other things going on,” the forward got on the glass for 10 rebounds (3 offensive) and used his length to send back two Laker shot attempts. He also tallied 15 points and was one of six Nuggets players in double-figure scoring.
Porter’s two blocks were textbook. He used his length perfectly.
Porter’s game was symbolic of the Nugges’ current team-wide mentality as Denver took a 1-0 lead over Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets are showing that they’re willing to put it all on the line for a victory. It’s that time of year. Egos are pushed aside. Point totals don’t matter. Individual statistics aren’t on anyone’s mind. The entire locker room is bought in.
It’s why Porter went to Malone during Round 2 of the playoffs vs. the Suns and said he was fine if Malone opted to close fourth quarters with Bruce Brown in his place. “I just want to win,” Porter told Denver’s coach. Of course, Porter wants to be on the floor, but he’s fine relinquishing his spot to Brown if that’s what Malone thinks gives the Nuggets the best chance at a victory.
“It’s just about winning,” Porter said Tuesday.
With Porter setting the tone with his hustle and selfless attitude, the Nuggets are in great shape. Murray’s already playing through an illness and painful ear infection, which he’s had since Saturday. He still found a way to go for 31 points. Battling through various bumps and bruises of his own, Jokic did what he usually does in the playoffs — post a historic stat line in a win. Check DNVR Nuggets’ Player Grades from last night for my info on his masterpiece.
The sickness that Murray’s dealing with has been making its way through the Nuggets locker room — Malone’s voice has been hoarse for over a week — and got to Porter in Phoenix. He felt under the weather in Games 3 and 4 vs. the Suns.
“At this point,” said Porter. “Our mentality is to battle through anything.”
The Nuggets are pushing through it all. And in the process, Porter’s taking on some traits of his two-time MVP running mate, who’s never had an excuse for anything, both on and off the court. How Porter played Game 1 vs. the Lakers was so unlike the player that he was when he entered the NBA. He played physical, tough, and composed basketball. He wasn’t rattled. Porter was ready for the moment, just as his entire team has been throughout the playoffs. He was willing to do whatever it takes to win, just as Jokic is every single night.
And that brings me to the final note on Porter’s evening. He arrived and departed Ball Arena Tuesday in a suit, like Jokic typically does every game — Porter wore a sleek black coat and pants and paired them with jet-black Prada shoes.
As Porter left the locker room after Game 1, Jokic chuckled. It’s not an outfit that he apparently would try to pull off, but Jokic did appreciate Porter opting for formal wear.
“It was good. It was good,” Jokic said about Porter’s suit. “He’s picking it up.”