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Jokic makes mockery of Wolves defense, scores 40 in Denver's Game 5 win

DENVER – Before Game 5, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver presented Denver center Nikola Jokic with his third MVP trophy.

His teammates mobbed him at midcourt as the Timberwolves looked from their end of the court.

That's essentially what Jokic reduced the Wolves to the rest of the night — mere witnesses to an all-world performance as Denver defeated the Wolves 112-97 in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.

Last series, teammate Aaron Gordon described Jokic as a "genius who happens to play basketball."

"I'm not a genius," Jokic said with a smile Tuesday.

Jokic faced a difficult Rubik's Cube in a Wolves defense that dominated the first two games of the series. It may have taken him more time solve than the average NBA defense, but it seems he has, and the Wolves have no ability to counter when Jokic plays like he did Tuesday night: 40 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers.

The Wolves lost three consecutive games for the first time all season and will be facing elimination at Target Center with Game 6 on Thursday night.

"I just laugh. That's all I can do. I can't be mad," Wolves guard Anthony Edwards said of Jokic's performance. "Because he good, man. … He's the MVP, best player in the NBA. He showed it the last three games. He was special tonight. I got to give him his flowers. I don't know what we're supposed to do. He was that guy tonight."

Jokic showed the gap that can still exist between a team led by a 29-year-old who has all three MVP trophies and a championship ring, and a team led by a 22-year-old in Edwards who is still trying to traverse the heights Jokic has reached in the league, through multiple years of playoff disappointment of his own.

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BOXSCORE: Denver 112, Wolves 97

Edwards, through constant Denver double teams, could not find an offensive rhythm all game (18 points, 5-for-15 shooting in 44 minutes), while Jokic looked as if he were conducting an orchestra in the third quarter, when he had 16 points and four assists. Jokic was hitting shots all over the floor, from all angles and against all defenders.

"He was in the zone," said Wolves center Rudy Gobert, a four-time NBA defensive player of the year whom Jokic had no issue scoring on. "I mean, a couple shots that I think I actually blocked and the ball went in. It was just incredible in that quarter. He put the team on his back and he was making everything.

"We're going to watch the film and I think there are things we should have done better, but there's also plays he made that I think are tough to overcome."

That showed in the Wolves' composure, as they grew more frustrated with each Jokic bucket and miss at their end of the floor. They could have used floor general Mike Conley, who not only leads the offense but is an emotional stabilizer for the team. Conley missed Game 5 because of right Achilles soreness, with coach Chris Finch saying the team is hopeful Conley can play in Game 6. The Wolves had a 55-53 lead early in the third, but Denver responded with an 11-2 run of its own and the Wolves never threatened again. The Wolves' body language looked defeated for most of the second half.

"We got to keep our head," Gobert said. "I think that's the story for us. We know he's a one-of-one kind of player. We know he's going to make some incredible plays. But we got to keep at it. … The second half, we got a little too demoralized, and we can't have that."

Even as some of Jokic's teammates struggled to score early, it didn't matter. Jokic picked up the slack by going 15-for-22 from the field. Aaron Gordon pitched in 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Wolves couldn't take advantage of the extra attention the Denver defense was paying Edwards. The Nuggets made sure two guys were on him most of the night, and Edwards said he has rarely seen defensive attention like that.

"This was crazy," Edwards said. "Today was wild."

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points to lead the Wolves, while Gobert had 18. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who started for Conley, scored 14. Finch lamented that the offense didn't make the right play more often, especially during a first half in which the Wolves scored 44 points and had 11 turnovers.

Finch said the offense fell out of sorts when the Wolves committed offensive fouls on three consecutive possessions early in the second quarter.

"The easy kick-outs were there on a lot of those plays," Finch said. "We just needed to keep making the simple play, you know. I think our offense let us down again. They put on the ball with Ant. We knew that was going to happen. They've been doing that all series."

That will continue in Game 6, with or without Conley. That has been a constant. So has Jokic's play, which figures to be at the same level it has been in the last three games since the Wolves took a 2-0 series lead. Do they have any answers left?

"They're playing better than us right now," Edwards said. "They're outplaying us. They're playing harder than us. They're getting all the loose balls. Everything is going their way. They got the momentum, and we gotta figure out a way to shift it back our way."