Nuggets Game 1 win led by MPJ’s defense, yes he does that too

Jun 1, 2023, 10:34 PM

Michael Porter Jr....

Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

DENVER—Whatever you thought Michael Porter Jr. would be, he’s not—he’s better.

There was Michael Porter Jr. the hooper, the scorer, the 6-10 sweet-shooter that landed him as the top high school player in the country. There was the back injury set back but still, a steal for the Denver Nuggets at 14 in the 2018 NBA Draft. The thought was a great wing shooter to complement the budding guard-big duo of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

It was a nice thought, adding a scoring punch to what would end up as a legendary duo. The two both went over 25 points and 10 assists in their NBA Finals debut on Thursday and were just the second pair of teammates to hit those marks in the same Finals game. Add a big knockdown shooter? Whew, boy.

Funny thing, on the Nuggets night on the big stage Porter kind of stunk as a shooter. But it didn’t matter, because MPJ turned his game into so much more than shooting. An athletic giant, somehow taller than the Miami Heat’s center but more mobile and energetic than just about anyone on the court.

“Mike played an incredible game tonight,” Nuggets best defender as deemed by Nikola Jokic Aaron Gordon said after Game 1. “Just so well rounded and so balanced. Affected the game in so many different areas, and he’s just getting better and better on the defensive end.”

Porter had not one but two chase down blocks in the first half as the Nuggets sped out to a 59-42 lead. Porter and the Nuggets went cold in the second half but still held for a 104-93 win in Game 1. And it was a play Porter made, passing up a shot, that helped keep the Nuggets afloat. He stepped out of a shot and sprinted the lane and dropped a beauty of a pass to Jokic for a bucket.

Porter shot 2-for-11 from deep and yet led the Nuggets in plus-minus at plus-20 and on top of that was one of three, joining Jokic and Murray to get a double-double. Porter snagged a game-high 13 rebounds to go with 14 points.

“(He’s a) hard worker, loves basketball, dedicated. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how well he’s played through, how many injuries he’s been through,” Murray said about what he’s learned about Porter over the past few years. “We were out together for a while, and just to see him bounce back, every time that he’s been hurt, I think he’s pretty impressive. He’s only getting better.”

Porter is more than a shooter, he’s proved that in these playoffs. It was another game without a mistake on offense too, which has happened in 12 of the Nuggets 16 playoff games this year. Porter is one of just four players with seven or fewer turnovers in a postseason with over 550 minutes played.

“Shout-out to Mike. He’s done a great job just having an all-around game. Even when he’s not shooting the ball well, he’s impacting the game in different ways,” Murray said. “We going to need more of that. He’s done a great job, not just this game but all year, of impacting the game.”

Porter isn’t all the way there yet and that’s known. He seems more agile coming back from the multiple back surgeries with each passing day. He seemed more confident in his body during Game 1 of the Finals than he has maybe since high school. Even his father recently tweeted that he didn’t know if his boy would ever get back to this point.

But it’s not about getting back for Porter, he’s better than he’s ever been. And maybe, just maybe, one day he’ll be a great defender too.

“Well, you’ve got to want it, first and foremost. A lot of guys don’t really care about the defensive side of the floor. Just effort, the want, the energy. That’s where it starts. Then after that, it takes knowing the personnel, and then it takes technique.”

A 6-foot-10 Klay Thompson type is a lot more than just the big spot-up shooter many thought Porter would be. But it’s time to crack the perception around Porter. MPJ is a team player, a solid defender, and a hustler and he can knock down shots too, Thursday just wasn’t his night for that.

In time maybe he will earn the two-way reputation, he’s taken the first steps. The thought of him being a bad defender is dead and buried and he has more than just the respect of his team, he has its trust too.

“I can’t really explain how special it is to do it. This group of guys you know and this organization that drafted me after everything I’ve been through. It’s really special,” Porter said. “I think me Jamal and Joker are the only three left from the team that I got drafted to so to still be here. You know, it shows the belief that the organization has me after everything I’ve been through. And it just is really special to be here in this moment. We already made history by getting here but that doesn’t mean anything to us. We gotta go and win this Finals.”



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