- Covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for ESPN.com
Denver Nuggets rookie forward Michael Porter Jr. flashed his raw offensive talent in the first half of Game 4 on Wednesday against the LA Clippers, using his size to score inside and his smooth jumper to shoot over L.A.’s rangy wing defenders on his way to 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
He finished the game with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
As the Clippers won 96-85 to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series, with scoring struggles plaguing the Nuggets in the second half, Porter had a simple explanation as to why he couldn’t keep his scoring game going.
“I just didn’t touch the ball,” he said. “They didn’t do anything differently.”
According to Second Spectrum data, Porter had 25 touches in the first half, third on the team behind stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. In the second half, Porter had just 12 touches, seventh most on the team.
“That is up to the playcalling, the coaches and whose hands they want to put the ball in,” Porter said. “We kept going to [Jokic] and [Murray] and they are two amazing players, but I just think to beat them we need to get more players involved. We have to move the ball a little bit better. We can’t be predictable against that team.”
Porter built on a strong Game 3, when he scored 18 points in 23 minutes, including an emphatic poster over Montrezl Harrell. In Game 4, he played 34 minutes and was on the floor to close the game in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
It’s no secret the Denver offense runs through Jokic and Murray, one of the best pick-and-roll combinations in the league. Via Second Spectrum data, Murray and Jokic have combined for 175.5 touches per game this season, the second most by any pair of teammates over the past five seasons. The only duo with more: Jokic and Murray last season.
But with his size and scoring ability, Porter is a potential X factor for the Nuggets. And despite being a rookie, he feels comfortable making it known he wants to be more involved.
“I think if I am going to be out there on the floor playing a lot of minutes, I think I should voice that,” he said. “I will probably talk to the coaches and tell them what I see being out there on the floor just letting them know, look, they know what we are doing. We have to swing the ball. We have a lot of players that can play basketball and score, so we have to get some more guys involved.”
Down 3-1, the Nuggets are in familiar territory, having come back from the same deficit in the opening round against the Utah Jazz. They can draw on that experience, coach Mike Malone said, and that means winning the next game in front of them. But he also acknowledged that the Clippers are a different matchup than the Jazz.
“The same message will be what it was against Utah,” Malone said. “It wasn’t that we have to come back and win three games. It was, let’s win Game 5. And then after that, let’s win one at a time. Let’s win 6 and then win 7. We have done it. It is a different opponent. Very talented, deep team but I think we do have confidence in being a resilient group and being a team that when everyone else has written us off, we have found a way.”
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