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The Golden State Warriors are shifting on to the Western Convention semifinals after beating Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 102-98 in Recreation 5 to clinch their first-round collection. Stephen Curry completed with a team-high 30 factors, whereas Gary Payton II got here up massive within the fourth quarter.

The Warriors clamped down on the Nuggets’ offense late, holding them to only 20 factors within the fourth and improved to 20-8 in closeout video games below Steve Kerr. They’re additionally now 16-1 all-time when holding a 3-1 collection lead — the lone loss got here within the 2016 Finals.

Michael Malone’s Nuggets have had success prior to now in elimination video games and even overcoming 3-1 collection holes. Nonetheless, Denver fell brief in forcing a Recreation 6 and increasing its postseason. Jokic completed with 30 factors, 19 rebounds and eight assists within the loss. The Warriors advance to face the winner between the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves. Listed below are the largest takeaways from Recreation 5.

1. He could also be a Nugget, however he is additionally a warrior

When Nuggets head coach Mike Malone addressed the media after Recreation 5, he had nothing however reward for Nikola Jokic. “The man is the definition of a warrior,” Malone mentioned of the reigning MVP. The phrasing was maybe a bit odd contemplating their opponents from Golden State, however the sentiment was felt by the top of the sport, and actually, your complete season.

It was virtually poetic. Jokic, taking part in just about your complete season with out star teammates Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, needed to carry the Nuggets to a historic diploma this season. A crew that had no enterprise sniffing the playoffs managed to earn a No. 6 seed because of their MVP. He staved off a sweep in Recreation 4 with a 37-point explosion. However together with his season on the road on Wednesday, his physique lastly broke. He could not carry his teammates any longer. He left the sport with a hamstring harm. If he hadn’t performed one other minute the remainder of the evening, his offseason relaxation would have been well-earned.

As a substitute, he not solely returned, he dominated. Except for Monte Morris’ garbage-time layup, Jokic was the one Nugget to attain within the final eight minutes and 6 seconds of the sport. You would not probably ask for a greater encapsulation of his season. Jokic carried the Nuggets so far as he probably might. They could not carry him the ultimate few steps they wanted to tonight, and their season ended consequently.

But when these groups meet once more subsequent season, with Murray and Porter again within the fold and maybe a couple of upgrades scattered among the many remainder of the roster, do not be stunned if the result’s completely different. This was not a good combat. Even below the circumstances, Jokic stared down a top-15 participant of all time in Stephen Curry and was each bit his equal. If his crew can match Curry’s subsequent season, then this might be top-of-the-line collection of the 2023 postseason.

2. Boogie time

The final 4 seasons haven’t been variety to DeMarcus Cousins. In that span, he has one way or the other managed to play for the Curry-era Warriors, LeBron James Lakers, James Harden Rockets, Kawhi Leonard Clippers, Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks and Jokic Nuggets … with out ever successful a championship. He is been on 4 groups prior to now two years alone, and did not even begin this season on a roster. The NBA has basically discarded a 31-year-old former All-Star.

However as this collection has confirmed, Cousins nonetheless has a spot within the league. In reality, he may need a house in Denver. That a lot was obvious from the second he signed. He could not be a 30-minute participant and his protection can border on disastrous, however the numbers do not lie. Earlier than Cousins arrived in January, the Nuggets have been outscored by 217 factors within the 823 minutes they’d performed with out Jokic. Afterward? That fell to only 38 factors in 662 minutes.

He was at his greatest in Recreation 5, scoring 19 factors on 8-of-12 capturing to maintain Denver afloat within the minutes Jokic needed to relaxation. As soon as once more, Denver saved tempo within the non-Jokic minutes. For the collection as a complete, the Nuggets really received the minutes Cousins performed by three.

He is a really particular participant at this stage of his profession, however that specificity may be very helpful to Denver. The Nuggets are constructed round Jokic’s distinctive items. No backup on Earth might replicate them. However in Cousins, they’ve the closest facsimile they might probably ask for out of a minimal wage, a playmaking middle that they’ll run offense by and who can pound mismatches. He is not a core participant anymore. He should not begin. There are matchups the place he will not have the ability to play in any respect. However Cousins has confirmed that he should not have to attend till midseason to get a job subsequent yr. If something, Denver ought to decide to him as its major backup middle instantly.

3. Power in numbers

Andrew Wiggins is making the utmost wage. Jordan Poole is inching in that course. There is a purpose the Warriors at the moment are beginning each together with their three entrenched superstars. Most groups are so determined for gamers like that they run them into the bottom. If Denver had Wiggins or Poole tonight, they’d have performed 45 minutes apiece.

Steve Kerr used them for 50 … mixed. Neither of them closed the sport. As a substitute, they relied on Kevon Looney, making mid-level cash, Otto Porter, a minimum-salary home-run swing, and Gary Payton II, a coaching camp shock, as their fourth-quarter position gamers. That call proved to be a superb one. It assist the Warriors clamp down defensively towards a rampaging Jokic. Payton hit among the greatest pictures of his profession. The Warriors superior.

Golden State’s mantra since Steve Kerr arrived has been “energy in numbers,” however it’s all the time felt a bit pressured. You would argue that Anderson Varejao’s extreme minutes in Recreation 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals price Golden State a championship. Their starters have all the time performed restricted minutes within the title of participating your complete roster. Except for the Kevin Durant years, it actually helped chemistry, however the numbers steered it in all probability wasn’t doing them many favors on the courtroom.

However this crew is one thing else completely. There’s nothing pressured about this season’s depth. The Warriors are the uncommon contender with so many stars that they do not even have to make use of all of them. Their expertise surplus is so huge that they’ll choose and select position gamers for particular circumstances with out having to fret a couple of expertise deficit. Even rookie Jonathan Kuminga gave them a half-decent second-quarter stretch. Andre Iguodala could have a job ready for him when he returns. Golden State’s depth is probably its best weapon. The Warriors can play any manner they select. Few different contenders have ever been in a position to say the identical.

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