Based on Nikola Jokic’s reaction, you’d never know that his step-back 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter won the Denver Nuggets the game Sunday at Ball Arena.
He didn’t crack a smile. He didn’t even look excited.
He did run back on defense, though. There were 0.2 seconds left on the clock after all.
“That’s how I react,” Jokic said postgame. “No reaction.”
It was a classic reaction from the back-to-back MVP. Because of course, all Jokic cares about at the end of the day is winning. He’s not in it for individual accomplishments or game-winning shots. We care about a third-straight MVP way more than Jokic does. He wants no part of the limelight. Jokic just wants to be a part of the team. This is the same guy who stands under the basket during pregame introductions at Ball Arena, practically hiding from the camera instead of running out from the Nuggets’ bench when his name is called like the rest of his teammates do.
Jokic’s no-doubt triple from the top of the 3-point arc — his one and only field goal attempt of the fourth quarter — gave the Nuggets a 119-116 win over the Magic. Jokic tallied 17 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 35 minutes of work.
“I was surprised, but at the same time I wasn’t because it’s Joker,” Aaron Gordon said about Jokic sinking the difficult game-winner.
Jokic saved the Nuggets after Denver almost let one get away at home. The Nuggets took a double-digit lead into halftime but slept-walked through a third quarter where the Magic clawed back into the game. Denver’s offense was out of sorts for the entire second half. Orlando took advantage, came all the way back, and eventually held the lead late in the fourth. Jokic’s game-winner moved the Nuggets to 30-13 on the season, kept Denver atop the Western Conference and improved his team’s record at Ball Arena to an NBA-best 19-3.
It was a tough win but one that showed growth. The Nuggets took care of business against a team they should have beaten, which hasn’t always been the case for Denver in past seasons. The Nuggets are now on a six-game winning streak.
Winning ugly. That’s a championship habit.
“Last year, that’s probably a game we let go,” said Gordon.
Gordon chipped in 25 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in the win. All five of the Nuggets starters scored in double-figures. Bruce Brown added 12 points, 4 steals and 2 blocks off the bench. On the season, Jokic is averaging 24.7 points on a ridiculous 62% shooting, 10.9 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game. The Nuggets are now 12-0 when Jokic registers a triple-double this year.
Jokic didn’t play one of his better games of the season vs. Orlando. But he still was dominant. Jokic’s processing speed is so fast right now. It’s clearly a level up from where it was last year. He’s always one or two moves ahead of the defense. He knows what his defender — and most of the time what the entire defense — is going to do before they do themselves. He’s playing an entirely different game than anyone in the NBA. Just watch the Nuggets play, and then turn around and try and watch a run-of-the-mill game between two other teams. You’ll quickly see how different Jokic is.
Here’s more on his game-winner…
Jokic said postgame that the shot felt good when it left his hands. He also gave a frame-by-frame breakdown of the play.
“We had 16 or 15 seconds,” Jokic said. “…I heard that they were going to switch it. I think the call is “Blue,” or something like that. I wanted to (give Jamal) a better angle, so even if they switch Jamal could go downhill or I could be in front of the basket.”
“I think they kind of doubled (Jamal) and he passed me the right pass. I think I had Mike open, but I just didn’t see it. Wagner was on me and I didn’t see Mike in the corner. I think KCP was open for one second. I think I looked up and it was like three seconds, so I had time to do something. I just stepped back.”
That recall ability is always incredible to me. It’s something that these top NBA talents all somehow have. The ability to remember these sequences step by step, move by move, is always jaw-dropping. Jokic and the great ones have it.
The great ones also care the most about winning. It’s their first, second and third priority every time they step out on the floor. Nothing else really matters to them, or to Jokic.
“It was a good thing just because we won the game basically,” Jokic said regarding his game-winner. “They had .2 seconds. And three points for us. Basically, you cannot shoot it in that time.”