Let’s face it: this was not Denver’s A game. The Nuggets were down by a dozen points in the fourth quarter and Jokic didn’t have a bucket from the field despite his rebounding and passing wizardry. Luka Doncic finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and at 9 assists came one shy of completing a glorious triple double. It was going to be his highlight show.
But his missed free throw at the end left Denver needing just a bucket to steal the victory, and they went to the best big man closer in the game: Nikola Jokic.
Nikola Jokic is the best closer at center in the NBA, that's for sure. Last 2 minutes, score within 3 points. Team is 19-8 in the clutch, primarily because of him. pic.twitter.com/tGlCEEHe5K— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) March 15, 2019
The Nuggets are 14-3 in games decided by four points or less, as Kevin Harlan noted last night while also saying of Jokic, “He is their cornerstone. He is their go-to player.” Trying to explain that to national audiences not used to his miracles is a challenge I hope every commentator embraces until the end of time.
The end of this game was absolutely phenomenal. Check out the casual wrist flick finish as time expires as Jokic isos from the three point line into the paint - while everyone clears out like this is some sort of 2009 Kobe highlight clip. He doesn’t celebrate at all, while Doncic reacts like someone punched him in the stomach. His teammates are chanting along with the MVP calls echoing through the building after the game while laughing like little kids. Meanwhile Jokic looks like he needs some cevapi and a nap. “This was all for them,” he said of winning the game thanks to the support of his teammates and coaches. It’s like flabby Herakles thinks he’s a member of the Greek chorus instead.
This is not the best iteration of this team. This is merely the precursor to the greatness that will be a staple in Denver for as long as Jokic is here. It feels almost nothing like the team that last had an All-Star, Carmelo Anthony’s Nuggets. Half of these highlights are Paul Millsap highlights, because Jokic makes everyone around him better. He has no idea how to react to being the center of attention while Melo craved it, but when this team needs a closer he’s as good as Melo ever was at finishing the deal.
Jokic really is Denver’s Dirk Nowitzki going forward, or the Phoenix version of Steve Nash - or both together. I don’t know how you build a championship around a seven footer made of magic Play-Doh, but Denver is figuring it out one win at a time.
Buckle up Denver - there’s a lot more of this for years to come. But first let’s ride out this year. Are the playoffs here yet?