NBA Playoffs: Nikola Jokic torments Timberwolves as Nuggets win pivotal Game 5

Before you judge Rudy Gobert, the NBA’s best defensive player who just allowed Nikola Jokic to score 40 points in a pivotal Game 5, ask yourself a question.

how do you want You Would you guard the Denver Nuggets star if you were 7 feet tall with the agility and wingspan of Gobert? If you have an answer, you are either wrong or need to contact the Minnesota Timberwolves as soon as possible.

They could certainly use that help after a 112-97 loss that gave the Nuggets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals, a series in which Minnesota once led 2-0 and seemed unstoppable. A must-win Game 6 awaits in Minneapolis on Thursday.

Going back to Jokic’s question, let’s go over some of the highlights and see if we can figure out what Gobert should have done differently on a night in which the reigning MVP scored 40 goals on 15-of-22 shooting with 13 assists, seven rebounds and — take a deep breath here. – Zero rotation.

Here, Gobert matches Jokic step for step and eventually forces him to do an awkward hook shot, which he does.

Here, he’s matched up in the paint with Kyle Anderson trailing and leaving only a split-second window in which to make a shot. Jokic, of course, finds that window and hits the shot.

Here, he has to follow Jokić to the perimeter and has to stay with him due to the lack of an effective defense waiting for them in the paint. Gobert basically gives up and makes a foul that knocks him off balance. Joki takes the contact, then…and-1.

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It was all in the span of about six minutes, in a 16-point, four-assist third quarter.

Then came the dagger in the fourth quarter, when Gobert kept his hand in Jokic’s face throughout the shot.

Gobert is one of the best defensive players in NBA history, a guy whose presence in the paint can single-handedly make a defense great. When given the Timberwolves’ supporting cast, he anchored the best defense in the NBA during the regular season.

The problem with the Timberwolves, and every team remaining in the playoffs, and every team hoping to compete for a title over the next few years, is that a fully-functional Jokic seems to be a problem without a solution, even when Gobert gives you the solution. The closest thing you can get to an answer key. What do you do when a 7-foot player has the best court vision and best basketball IQ the NBA has ever seen from a big man, plus a 284-pound mass, a shooting touch and the fastest hand in the West?

Minnesota seemed close to solving the problem early in the series, then lost all momentum. They entered Game 5 missing veteran Mike Conley and saw Karl-Anthony Towns suffer an apparent leg injury in the second quarter.

It looked like a victory when the Timberwolves entered halftime with just a six-point lead, considering they turned it over 11 times while Anthony Edwards was 1-of-8 from the field and Towns and Naz Reid dealt with foul trouble. It looked like a turning point when they scored the first seven points of the third quarter to take a brief lead.

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Denver quickly responded with a 9-2 run when Jokic went to work. A massacre ensued.

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