Nikola Jokic set a new career high with 41 points to go with 12 rebounds, 5 assists and some MVP chants from the crowd as the Denver Nuggets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 112-104. He wound up outscoring the entire Brooklyn starting lineup. Paul Millsap added 17 points and Will Barton had 17 points and 8 rebounds in 31 minutes (of which 26 or so were good and energetic). The Nuggets let the Nets back into it in the fourth quarter after Jokic got his fifth foul, but their lead in this game wound up being insurmountable despite some great bench efforts from the Nets.
D'Angelo Russell hit the first shot of the game as the Nuggets missed their first four before Jokic grabbed his second steal and went coast-to-coast for a layup. The Nuggets started off 1-of-8 from the field before Millsap hit a drive from the three point line, but Denver's defense kept it close early. The Nuggets struggled to exploit any mismatches but got 5 turnovers from Brooklyn in the first 5+ minutes including a clear path foul that let them go up 11-7 at the 6 minute mark.
So Nikola had a steal (a nice steal mostly because the ball was right there), got the ball, and went ahead and did his Point Nikola thing. Nikola is a 6'10" guy that can run the floor, if you didn't know. Also, he made the layup. Good job, Nikola. pic.twitter.com/e0r3Se8LxB— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 8, 2017
The Nuggets ran a beautiful play with Jokic reversing the ball across the court for an open 3 that Gary Harris hit, but followed that with a blown fastbreak with a behind-the-back turnover from Jamal Murray. It was a weird first quarter, but the Nuggets played defense for about 11 of the 12 minutes. Barton made a couple of buckets down the stretch while Denver held the Nets to 10 made field goals, grabbing 5 steals and the 28-21 lead after one quarter.
The Nuggets missed a couple of shots to start the second while the Nets made a couple and cut the lead to three just a minute in. Malik Beasley broke an 0-for-6 with a nice drive while Barton hit his 4th shot of the game to push the lead back to 33-26. Jokic hit a three on his tenth shot already of the half but then got dunked on.
Denver then got lazy, with some missed guard shots and a silly in-bounds turnover, but the Nets kept giving Denver the ball which let them hang onto the lead, and a Millsap finger roll made it 41-37. The Nuggets made four shots in a row and Jokic made a free throw to take the lead up to 48-37 and then this crossover drive from Millsap made it 50 with two minutes to go:
The Nuggets had a chance to put even more distance between them and the Nets, but some sloppy play cost them a little. It would have cost more, but Barton's terrific chase-down block of D'Angelo Russell left Denver up 57-46 at the half behind Jokic's 21 on 15 shots. Barton added 13 points in 13 first-half minutes.
The Nuggets started the second half with some nice second effort on the offensive glass (from Jokic and Murray) as well as a steal by Harris boosted the Nuggets to 70-55. Jokic's 28th point briefly put his total over that of the entire Brooklyn starting 5, and with a pair of buckets to follow he had a season-high 32 with 6 minutes left in the third. It was the Jokic show with points, steals and perfect passes to make it 83-61 on a Millsap 3.
He can shoot the three. He can make (literally) impossible passes. He can work the post. He lives in the midrange. He can run the point. He can draw the and-1. He's got footwork like this.— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 8, 2017
What can Nikola Jokić not do? pic.twitter.com/Bj5xF9rrQR
The Nuggets kept the pressure on the Nets with fast offense and good defensive pressure. Will Barton had more good minutes including a tremendous pass to Mason Plumlee, and Jokic finished off his double-double as Denver kept its lead at 20, 93-73.
The only blemish on Jokic's game for the evening were his fouls, as he picked up his 5th just a minute into the 4th and had to sit. Wilson Chandler had a quiet if not disappointing game (including his moonball pass to Scott Hastings at the commentary table) but did make a bucket to push denver over 100 points, with a 101-78 lead with 9 minutes to go. Unfortunately, without Jokic in the game the Nuggets stagnated into a quick-fire offense that couldn't hit or take a good shot, so Michael Malone brought Nikola Jokic back into the game to stabilize things. Jokic fouled out on a cheap on with three minutes to go but his extra baskets helped keep the lead big enough for Denver to comfortably take the game from Brooklyn despite a late three-point foul from Will Barton that helped Brooklyn clear the 100-point barrier.
Aggressive Jokic is the best Jokic. Nikola Jokic was very perimeter oriented tonight but he changed that usage style into a mark in his favor, as he became the first Nugget to ever have 35+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists with at least 4 three-pointers made. It's not his usual style but he was happy to shoot and at one time made 10-of-11. I may want the Nuggets to run their offensive differently at times and it certainly looks like an unleaded car trying to run on diesel without Jokic in, but any time they can get their Serbian center to play aggressive basketball for four quarters the Nuggets will be in good position.
Denver's defense is saving their bacon when their offense is week-old gravy. They shut down Brooklyn's fastbreak points (they had only 5 with 7 minutes to go) and helped them get their own fastbreak game going. It took away opportunities from the Nets with 25 turnovers (16 steals) and for three quarters helped the Nuggets contain the Nets even when its offense was faltering. That will be important this year if Denver plans to go places. The Nuggets had just 6 points, 6 assists and 6 turnovers from Mudiay and Murray in 47 minutes. When the point guards disappear and the entire offense is on Jokic, the defense has to be able to keep Denver in the game. Tonight, it was.
Millsap and Jokic showed signs that they might be adjusting to playing together. And in order not to jinx it, that's all I'll say about that.