Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images
Nikola Jokić Scores Career-High 41 Points as Nuggets Defeat Nets
These are the essential victories. The games on cold, sleepy Tuesday nights when energy is difficult to come by. The games at home against an opponent coming in on the second of a back-to-back. The games in the middle of a lengthy homestand.
The Nuggets did what needed to be done to be done in a 112-104 victory over Brooklyn at the Pepsi Center. They methodically took down a team that had every intention of playing hard enough to give itself a chance, moved their record on this homestand to 3-1 in the process and improved to 6-5 overall this season.
Make no mistake: It was all Jokić, all the time, and the Nets could not stop him. Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson feared as much in his talk with media prior to the game.
“He’s a tough, tough cover,” Atkinson said. “When we played Denver it’s like, man, it’s not something we’re used to. A very tough cover.”
Jokić was all of that and more. The most fun stat of the night became Jokić’s points versus the entire Nets starting five. He outscored them all 41-40. Let that sink in. Jokić’s career-high 41 points were more than all of the Nets starters combined.
“It’s just one of those nights where he got it going early,” guard Will Barton said.
Team-wise, the third quarter did the trick, as it has so many times this season. The Nuggets scored 36 points in the period, outscoring the Nets by nine and pushing their lead to 25 points in the process.
But Brooklyn never completed faded. The Nuggets were forced to seriously protect that lead, which the Nets significantly chopped into. But they did eventually put the game away. Late in the fourth, Jokić came off the court after fouling out to a rousing ovation, and why not? He’d just posted 41 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
Fans chanted “MVP, MVP!” But in true unselfish, Jokić style, he just shrugged it off.
“That’s funny,” he said.
But his stat-stuffing was no laughing matter. It was a full night of production when the Nuggets needed it. Offense flowed through him, and he made all the right decisions, whether it was looking for his own shot or tossing a pass to the opposite side of the court for a Gary Harris 3-pointer.
“The guy can do it all,” Nuggets coach Malone said. “We needed it. Great game, great defensive effort.”
Jokić wasn’t alone.
Paul Millsap provided punch in the paint, finishing with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. And Will Barton jump-started the Nuggets offense late in the first and into the second quarter when they needed it most. Barton scored 13 points in the first half on 5-of-8 shooting, making a variety of attempts in the process. Gary Harris had six steals, part of a Nuggets defensive effort that forced 25 Brooklyn turnovers and converted those into 27 points.
But the star of the night was Jokić, who in two games against the Nets this season averaged 31.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists. The Nuggets swept the season series.
“He is ultra-skilled,” Malone said. “Obviously, the way he’s been shooting the ball this year from 3-point range has been magnificent. … He’s a helluva player, and I’m going to stop saying he’s a helluva young player because I don’t care how old he is, Nikola Jokić is one of the better players in the NBA.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.