Millsap is 'the calm' of the Nuggets - Malone

By Tom Webber 8 May 2019 2
Millsap is 'the calm' of the Nuggets - Malone

Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone hailed Paul Millsap as "the calm for our team" after a resounding 124-98 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 on Tuesday.

Millsap scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a performance that set the tone for a physical display from the Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference semi-final series 3-2.

The 34-year-old power forward is averaging 19 points, 9.6 rebounds and a field-goal percentage of 55.1 against the Trail Blazers in the postseason.

Coach Malone said: "He's been phenomenal, but it's not surprising for any of us.

"[He's a] 13-year vet, a lot of games under his belt and he's stepping up when we need him to step up.

"The best thing about Paul Millsap is he's true to himself, he never tries to be someone he's not. He's not a guy who's going to be screaming and yelling, but his calm nature, his calm demeanour has an effect on our group – a young team going through all this for the first time.

"When you can look to a four-time All-Star with 90 playoff games under his belt, that's reassuring. He's the calm for our team and I think that has a tremendous impact on all our young players."

Millsap made seven of his first 10 shots as he scored 19 points in the first half and center Nikola Jokic, who put up 25 points and 19 rebounds, was impressed by the way the veteran set the tempo.

Jokic said: "He was huge. He set everything: physicality, pace, offensively, defensively. He was really huge.

"He's actually playing really good these playoffs. Maybe he turned on the playoff mode."

Denver are one game away from reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009, but Malone is cautious of the threat posed by Damian Lillard after his heroics in Portland's first-round win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"No disregard to anyone else on their roster, he's their best player and when you watch the five games against OKC in the first round he dominated that series," he said.

"We guarded him really well in the regular season and we've guarded him well for five games now.

"But he's a great player, he's an All-Star for a reason and he's capable of scoring 50 in Game 6 and we're well aware of that, so we have plenty of work to do. We're not done yet."

Lillard had 22 points, his second-fewest in this postseason, and acknowledged the impressive defensive job the Nuggets have done on him but warned he could well step through the gears with the Trail Blazers on the brink of elimination.

"They're doing a good job, they're making me see bodies, they're playing physical, guys are chasing hard over the screens, they're not quitting on plays so there's not a lot of space out there," said Lillard.

"I think the opportunity [to score 50] is there. I've had big games against tough defense in games where I was getting a lot of attention. With our season on the line and knowing we've got to have two games in a row, you never know.

"We know that we're more than capable of getting it done in the next game. We don't feel like we've played our best basketball yet and with our backs against the wall we don't have a choice."

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Tom Webber