Sometimes the game of basketball is as simple as which team has the best two players on the floor. Tonight, as the media romanticized the return of Kawhi Leonard alongside Paul George and continued the mental gymnastics to peg anyone else besides Nikola Jokic as MVP, it was the duo of Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. which bested the LA Clippers by a score of 110-104.
On national TV (and in front of Jamal Murray!) Jokic put on a masterclass, putting up a cool 30 point, 14 rebound, seven assist performance. He took over the game in the third quarter as he gutted Ivica Zubac like a fish on his way to 18 points in the third, scoring in every way imaginable: layup, tomahawk dunk, three, Sombor Shuffle. If it wasn’t glaringly obvious before tonight, Jokic will be taking home some hardware this season - and hopefully not just the MVP trophy.
MPJ’s transcendence continued as he lit the nets on fire of the team that passed on him twice in the draft. Porter had 25 points on 4-7 shooting from deep, but also in his repertoire tonight was seven rebounds and five assists. It’s a great feeling when you have a guy on your team who can shoot and impact the game the way he did - especially in the fourth quarter when he cooked for eights points in the opening minutes of the frame.
George and Leonard combined for 36 points for the Clippers, but it was really the eternally pesky Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins who kept LA even in the game off the bench. Cousins replaced the aforementioned Zubac and did a much better job bothering Jokic while chipping in 16 points, and Rondo slinked and slithered his way to 18 points of his own.
In the end, it wasn’t enough as Jokic guided the Nuggets to the victory, drawing a huge foul on Cousins late in the fourth on a three-point attempt and finding a wide open Facundo Campazzo for three shortly thereafter.
Other notable performances came from Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green in the first and second quarters, combining for 17 points while helping the lineup of Shaq Harrison and Austin Rivers stifle the Clippers’ bench. PJ Dozier had 16 points and has been a positive contributor on offense in addition to his defensive work in holding George to just 5-for-21 on the night.
The Nuggets, 9-1 without Murray and winners of five in a row, improve to 43-21 on the year and by way of tiebreaker have now pulled into third place in the Western Conference. They will spend the weekend in Los Angeles before taking on the Lakers on Monday night, again on ESPN.