Michael Porter Jr. Was Right

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist ISeptember 12, 2020

Denver Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr. reacts after a basket during the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

We all heard Michael Porter Jr.'s comments after the Denver Nuggets' Game 4 loss on Wednesday. At least, all of NBA Twitter did. Depending on where you stand, he was either well within his rights as a talented star in the making, completely out of line as a rookie, or maybe something in between as a 22-year-old figuring it out.  

Wherever you stand, one thing was clear. Porter's comments put the spotlight on him heading into their elimination game Friday night. 

Even though Porter should have kept his comments in-house, he turned out to be correct—Murray and Jokic had just three of Denver's last 17 points—and the Nuggets lived to fight another day.

After a quiet three quarters, Porter stepped up in a big way, hitting probably the biggest shot of his young career to seal Denver's 111-105 victory. It is definitely the type of shot a coach would classify as a no, no, no...YES bucket. 

Even bigger than the shot was Porter's defense in the fourth, which was unexpected considering his defense had put him in Mike Malone's doghouse throughout the season. 

Down five with 8:15 left, Porter shoots out of the paint to close out to Lou Williams and forces him to a side-step three that he does not get off before the shot clock expires. 

This time, with the Nuggets up eight and 3:30 left in the game, Porter helps to stop Kawhi Leonard's drive into the paint and then closes out to Marcus Morris Sr. at the three-point line and forces him into a difficult shot. 

Then with Denver up five and 37 seconds to go, Ivica Zubac has a deep post-up against Porter, but when he goes into his move, Porter comes up with a huge block. 

Porter's lone field goal sealed the game for the Nuggets, but his defense in the fourth was an important part of what kept them in that position. 

During the Utah Jazz series, Malone moved Porter to the bench. Even though he was taken out of the starting lineup for defensive purposes, it served another purpose. It gave the Nuggets bench some offensive punch and let Malone stagger Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray's minutes. 

Porter is such a good cutter and off-ball mover that he's a valuable target for Jokic when Murray is on the bench. Malone can also use Porter as Murray's pick-and-roll partner with his ability to mix up popping and rolling to the rim. He is a good enough shooter that he can spread the floor when on the court with both players. And he can also attack any second side action with his ball-handling skills.

Bringing him off the bench in this series also let him find the rhythm of the game against the Clippers' second unit. That meant he didn't have to start the game going up against Kawhi Leonard or Paul George on either end of the court. 

If we've learned one thing, it's that the Nuggets will not go out quietly. They didn't in the first round when they came back from a 3-1 deficit, and they didn't Friday night facing elimination again, coming back from a Clippers 15-point lead in the second half. 

It happened because of a team effort on both ends of the court. In the second half of Game 5 against the Clippers, the Nuggets had 15 assists and nine different scorers. In the second half of Game 4, they had just six assists and six different scorers. 

Porter's play in the bubble has shown the league that his future is extremely bright and he is just scratching the surface of his game. If the Nuggets are going to graduate from quasi-contenders to true contenders, it will be because Porter has developed into their third star.  

   

Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA