Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić Quietly Having an Impressive Postseason Debut
Nikola Jokic is averaging a triple-double in the first round of the playoffs
Lost amid the well-deserved awe of Jamal Murray’s fourth-quarter explosion in Game 2 has been the brilliance of Nikola Jokić during the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
The Nuggets All-Star’s dominance has been atypical. Jokić is averaging 15.5 points in the opening two games against the Spurs, which is almost five points below his season average (20.1). Yet, he is a seismic figure in several other areas. It is the reason why the Serbian is currently tied with none other than James Harden for second in the playoffs in player efficiency rating at 32.0. Only the Warriors’ Stephen Curry has a better rating at 38.0
Not bad for his first-ever playoff series.
Jokić has been hounded by double teams from San Antonio in the first round, but in his typical style of play, he’s has had a dramatic impact in other areas of the matchup. Jokić is averaging 13.5 rebounds, 11 assists and a surprising two steals in the first two games of the series against San Antonio. While there has been some criticism of the 24-year-old for not putting more shots up, Jokić isn’t bothered by it. He is mindful of searching for the best play and taking what the defense gives him.
“Maybe I could be a bit more aggressive, but I didn’t want me being aggressive to disrupt our offense,” Jokić said prior to the Nuggets Game 2’ win.
As unselfish as Jokić has been at times, he’s shown flashes of what he can do offensively when there are opportunities to do so. With the Nuggets playing at a faster pace on in Game 2, Jokić was able to find easy chances to score and had a 10-point second quarter. If Gary Harris continues his strong postseason play along with Murray and Paul Millsap building on their showings on Tuesday, that should only open up more chances for Jokic.
While Jokić has certainly been a positive impact in the way the Nuggets have operated their offense, he’s has had a significant impact on defense as well. He’s averaging two steals a game, including a crucial one on Rudy Gay at the end of Game 2 that helped seal the Nuggets’ first win in the postseason in six years. He’s also played solid man-to-man defense on LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Spurs center is averaging 19.5 points a game in the postseason, but he’s only shooting 35.9 percent from the floor. Jokić has had a hand in Denver’s success in containing him. Some of Aldridge’s shooting struggles have come from the Nuggets’ scheme, but some of it is also down to Jokić sticking to him on the court.
“Nikola’s defense on Aldridge, I thought was terrific,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after Game 1. “He was physical, he did his work early. He made him a little bit uncomfortable, and there were times where LaMarcus missed some shots that he usually makes.”
Malone added, “I think Nikola took on that challenge and did a hell of a job.”
With the series now shifting to Thursday night’s game in San Antonio, the stakes are higher for the Nuggets. The first round is tied at 1-1 and the fans at AT&T Center are notorious for their level of intensity. But if there’s one thing Nuggets fans can count on, it’s that Jokić will quietly deliver the sensible play. He’s doing it throughout the first round as he’s done all season long.