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Denver Nuggets: Paul Millsap matchup key to success in Game 5

The Denver Nuggets have benefited most from a bully ball style in the conference semifinals. Here’s why Paul Millsap is the key to winning Game 5.

Wow, what a series between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. Who knew this would be the second round’s most entertaining matchup?

The squads have clashed antlers in all four games, each one limping away battered and exhausted with two wins to its name. Sunday’s showdown guaranteed at least two more games in this melee of a conference semifinals.

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Nikola Jokic has been the main story for the Nuggets, already with four triple-doubles in the postseason. He’s averaging 26.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game in the series, while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 54.3 percent from distance.

And this is only his first career postseason?

The national chatter has cited a lack of support surrounding Jokic. Many observe teammates who have disappeared at times, especially in the first round. Yet, help has clearly been present in the second segment, most notably from Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap.

In this series, Murray is averaging a whopping 26.5 points per game, while also producing 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He dropped 34 points in each of the past two games in Portland. Murray finally garnered some recognition Sunday, scoring 12 fourth quarter points to help Denver fend off Damian Lillard and the Blazers.

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Meanwhile, Millsap is averaging 17.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the series, while also shooting 55.7 percent from the field. He’s also posted strong defensive numbers of 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. Millsap turned in an electric Game 4, totaling 21 points and 10 rebounds. He went 6-for-10 from the field, and flashed his versatility by going 2-for-3 from distance.

Both players are key to Denver’s offensive strategy. However, Millsap better embodies the Nuggets’ stylistic advantage.

Millsap helps the squad smack Portland where it hurts most: their injured, depleted frontcourt. Denver’s success has hinged on the ability to exploit the weakened interior. Millsap has averaged 20.0 points per game in the two Nuggets’ wins. In the two losses, he’s averaged just 15.5 points.

In the Nuggets’ Game 4 victory, Jokic and Millsap outscored Portland’s frontcourt tandem of Enes Kanter and Al-Farouq Aminu 42-24. Held to just five points, the only noise Kanter managed came through cries to the officials regarding Jokic’s physical play.

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In Denver’s two wins, the Jokic-Millsap tandem averaged 49.0 points on 58.1 percent shooting. In the two losses, the duo notched a significantly lower 40.0 points on 49.2 percent from the field. The team has proven its strength in the low block, snagging 71 offensive rebounds compared to Portland’s 52.

Herein lies the advantage, and the Nuggets’ key to Game 5.

Traveling back to the Mile High City, Portland’s fatigue — combined with the altitude — will likely cause weariness. Denver must punch its opponent in the gut with physical play, serving a steady diet of Jokic and Millsap bully ball.

Millsap is bigger and stronger than the undersized forwards who have guarded him. At one point, Portland tried several possessions with guards defending him down low (are you kidding me?). Combine this dilemma with Jokic’s muti-threat game, and Millsap has the chance to greatly impact the scoreboard.

Pummeling Portland down low is Denver’s key to Game 5. The Nuggets should run high-lows with Jokic and Millsap in the post early and often. The playoffs are often about physicality, and Denver must capitalize on this advantage.

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