Eleven nuggets for 11 Nikola Jokic buckets in Denver’s 95-86 win over the Raptors on Sunday.
1. Mason Plumlee is a reverse shot artist. The Nuggets backup center specializes in finishing with his back facing the rim. He’ll go up backwards from just about any angle, but never has he gone up backwards off the dribble. Nikola Jokic pulled off that funky feat in the third quarter.
“His was smooth,” Plumlee said. “It was off the dribble. I don’t think I’ve done one of those. It was pretty impressive.”
Somehow Jokic keep finding ways to dazzle. He water polo-ed, Eurostepped and spun his way to 26 points. He was Denver’s high point man for the fourth game in a row. The scoring spike he’s on started Dec. 8 against Atlanta. He had 24 that night, followed it up with 27 against the Grizzlies and netted 24 against the Thunder. The Nuggets, who have been without Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton during that stretch, are 3-1.
“He’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s our franchise player. We’ve committed to him. We’ve believed in him. He’s the future of this team. Whether we have guys out or we have a full roster, we expect a lot from Nikola. I think with Gary, Will and Paul all out, we’ve seen kind of like down the stretch last year (where) Nikola steps up and contributes to the win in many different ways.”
2. This does feel similar to Jokic’s closing stretch to the 2017-18 season, doesn’t it? Compare his numbers during the Nuggets’ final 18 games last year to what he’s done in their last four:
- 24 ppg (54 percent shooting), 11.5 rpg, 6.4 apg
- 25.3 ppg (56.1 percent shooting), 11.8 rpg, 6.5 apg
Jokic elevates his play when his team needs it. Denver has beaten three quality opponents in the last week severely shorthanded because he’s stepping up.
“We know that we are playing good basketball,” Jokic said. “Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to play for each other. That’s the only way.”
3. The Nuggets looked like they were cooked late in the third quarter. Kawhi Leonard’s 3 with 3:55 remaining in the quarter pushed Toronto’s lead to 13. But over the next eight minutes, Denver ripped off a 23-2 run that was one of its most impressive stretches of the season. Two factors keyed it: Jamal Murray caught fire, and Denver put the defensive clamps on Toronto. The Raptors shot 4 of 23 in the fourth quarter. Murray (15 fourth-quarter points) outscored Toronto (14 fourth-quarter points) by himself.