INSIDE THE NUGGETS

Nikola Jokic delivers chef d’oeuvre in historic night against DPOY

May 15, 2024, 3:44 AM | Updated: 1:40 pm

DENVER—Some wondered about divine intervention, others reviewed the history of two European countries’ relations and many wondered if the NBA needed to readjudicate their awards—the heater three-time MVP Nikola Jokic cooked up in the Denver Nuggets 112-97 Game 5 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and four-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was so cruel, sharp and historic that basketball watchers around the globe were left questioning what they just witnessed.

The answer in simple terms—Jokic’s chef d’oeuvre.

The superstar Serbian became the first player in NBA postseason history to be responsible for 70 or more of his team’s points without recording a turnover. He did so by scoring an unprecedented 40 points and tallying 13 assists with no turnovers on 15-of-22 shooting, going against the league’s best defense led by the stud French stopper Gobert.

“He was in the zone, he hit a couple of shots I think I actually blocked and the ball went in anyway,” Gobert said. “He was incredible, he put the team on his back. Making everything and drawing fouls… there are plays he made that are just tough to cover.”

Eight of Nikola’s nine shots when matched up with the current DPOY Gobert went in. But maybe it shouldn’t be an indictment of Gobert being shoddy but rather Jokic being one of the all-time greats.

“I didn’t see any weaknesses (in our defense,)” team star Anthony Edwards said. “I seen the MVP. He showed that he’s the MVP.”

On the night Jokic was given his third Michael Jordan Trophy, NJ had his fifth career 40-point playoff game. MJ did that 37 times but never with 13 assists and only once with zero turnovers.

“I just laugh, that’s all I can do. I can’t be mad, because he’s good, man,” a budding superstar that was compared to Jordan all last week Edwards said. “He’s the MVP and the best player in the NBA. He showed it in the last three games. Tonight he was special. I have to give him his flowers. I don’t know what we’re supposed… he was that guy tonight.”

Like Mike, Nikola has put a rather pedestrian franchise onto his back and elevated it to a never-before-seen pedestal. Sure, it’s Edwards who has a playstyle more like Jordan whereas Jokic has more in common with Hakeem Olajuwon. Yet No. 23 and No. 15’s career resumes look very similar at this age. Olajuwon, one of the legends, says of Jokic, “His shot, his fakes, they are very difficult to time. You don’t know when he’s faking and when it’s real. He has tricks. He’s the one.”

Those fakes, shots and unreal footwork not only French toasted Gobert but played All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and nine-year veteran Kyle Anderson off the floor. There was not scheme former Nuggets staffers and current Wolves bosses Chris Finch and Micah Nori could design for the Joker.

“When he gets it going and he is throwing up that stupid one-legged, one-armed behind-the-backboard shot, I am just heading back on defense,” said sidekick Jamal Murray. “It is amazing how he picks apart and reads the game and trusts his teammates. Obviously, getting the trophy tonight probably motivated him a little bit.”

Michael Malone again called Jokic a genius and said he likely belongs to Mensa. Jokic denied the claim. He offered on Gobert’s defense by saying that he just hopes that he will have one more counter move to Gobert.

Aaron Gordon added 18 points, almost all at the rim thanks to Gobert and the Wolves attention to Jokic. Murray didn’t have to do much, only scoring 10 points. The Nuggets only scored five points in the seven minutes they were without Jokic.

It was simply the Jokic show in Game 5 and he led Denver in demolishing the Wolves from the inside out in the pivotal contest. Denver wound up winning every single quarter in the process of victory, something they never even did on last year’s remarkable 16-4 championship run. And like last season, the Nuggets are 7-3 through their first 10 postseason contests.

Now back from 2-0 down at home to up 3-2 with a chance to close out on the road and at home, the Nuggets tagged the Wolves their first three-game losing streak of the season. Make it four and Denver will be just the second team in NBA history to fall 2-0 at home and then close out with a win in Game 6.

Remember Game 2 for a second though—Denver was down 26 at the half, the largest deficit faced by a reigning champion in a home playoff game since 1992. That’s when Jordan and the Bulls wound up taking that Game 2 beating into a 4-2 win over the Cavs as Jordan put up a series-best 37 points in Game 5, eventually leading to Chicago’s second title.

Who knows what Jokic will have in store on Thursday, but he’s only gotten better in this series and over time simply brought more for Gobert.

So what was wondered about, reviewed and readjudicated on Tuesday?

If God played basketball they would be as selfless as Jokic, so maybe there is something divine in Denver’s power of friendship, who is to say? Serbia’s relationship with France has been historically pretty good but Tuesday night may have been the sides’ darkest day since the Kosovo War. And the narratives that surrounded Denver’s lone title and Jokic’s third MVP a week ago are all but gone, thanks to him torching the runaway DPOY—who now has more to answer for that award than Jokic does his.

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