Denver Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. entered Game 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers with a fair amount of scrutiny around him due to controversial postgame comments questioning the Nuggets strategy in Game 4.
That scrutiny extended well into Game 5, in which Porter was scoreless for three quarters and seemed on track for whimpering end to his rookie season. And then the Nuggets launched their stunning comeback, with Porter delivering some massive plays down the stretch.
Michael Porter Jr. comes alive
Porter’s first big play came during the Nuggets’ big surge, with an alley-oop to Mason Plumlee to cut the Clippers’ lead to two points.
MPJ lob to Plumlee 😯— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 12, 2020
Nuggets cut the lead to 2 pic.twitter.com/cWqfdUwLAZ
Several minutes later, Porter iced a 3-pointer to extend the Nuggets’ lead to five points after the Clippers had launched a counter-comeback.
And then there was this incredible stretch from a player widely seen as a defensive liability, with Porter blocking Clippers center Ivica Zubac then hauling in a huge defensive rebound.
MPJ coming up big down the stretch ❌ pic.twitter.com/fDnwXsa9uX— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 12, 2020
Porter ended icing the game with four free throws made in the final 30 seconds, ensuring there would at least be a Game 6 in the Western Conference semifinals. Porter finished the game with just seven points, but was clearly a difference-maker down the stretch. Just like he seemed to believe he could be in Game 4.
Why so many people were criticizing Michael Porter Jr.
After a Game 4 in which he saw few second-half touches despite 15 first-half points, Porter said the Nuggets needed to get the ball in other players’ hands beyond stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray:
"I mean, that's really up to the play calls, that's really up to the coaches, who they want to put the ball in whose hands. We kept going to Jokic and 'Mal, and they're two amazing players, you can never get mad at that. But I just think to beat that team, we gotta get more players involved, we gotta move the ball a little bit better. We can't be predictable against that team.
"If I'm gonna be out there on the floor playing a lot of minutes, I think I should voice that (concern). I'll probably talk to the coaches, just tell them what I see being out there on the floor. Just letting them know, 'Look, they know what we're doing.' Like, we gotta swing the ball. We've got a lot of players who can play basketball and score. We gotta get some more guys involved."
Michael Malone didn’t seem happy with Porter
Two days later, Nuggets coach Michael Malone was asked about Porter’s comments. His answer: Keep those conversations internal.
Here’s part of Michael Malone’s answer when I asked his reaction to Michael Porter Jr.’s postgame comments. pic.twitter.com/ABJx5MuLE1— Mike Singer (@msinger) September 11, 2020
"Obviously, during the playoffs, the last thing you want is any type of distraction and if those frustrations are there for Michael or for anybody, it is much better to keep those conversations internal, in the locker room and amongst ourselves, and that was it."
That tune changed a bit after Game 5, with Malone praising Porter’s contributions on both ends of the floor.
Malone: “Michael Porter Jr has confidence in himself and we have confidence in him. That 3, the defense were huge. He’s a rookie, he still has a lot of room for improvement but the progress he made on defense from the Jazz series is outstanding” #NBA— Davide Chinellato (@dchinellato) September 12, 2020
Porter’s chance to continue that run will come on Sunday in Game 6.
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