Nikola Jokic led the charge for the Denver Nuggets in a thrilling 138-130 overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night. He registered his 17th triple-double of the season with 46 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.
Perhaps more impactful is that Jokic became just the second player in NBA history to register a 45-point triple-double on 70% shooting from the floor. He converted on 16 of his 22 shots in the win.
“My teammates were looking for me and I was making shots,” Jokic said. “I was aggressive so it was a really good win.”
Michael Malone said Jokic came into the locker room after the game calm, cool and collected acting as if he didn’t just have one of the best performances in the league this season. He called him a ‘cold-blooded killer.’ Unfortunately, Malone wasn’t able to enjoy the reining MVP’s performance from the sidelines after getting ejected from the game with 1:06 left in the third. His temper toward the official cost the Nuggets three technical free throws and losing their coach for the remainder of the game.
“I apologized to the team,” Malone said. “If we would’ve lost that game by one or two point I have to be much better. I have to control my emotions. I cannot put them in a position like that. I love the fact that the fans appreciate it some of the players like Aaron loved it. But I just got to be better than that and that’s something I felt bad about.”
Tim Connelly, president of basketball operations of the Denver Nuggets, joined Malone in the back to watch the rest of the game and provide some moral support. They both kept talking about what a privilege it is to have a guy like Jokic down the stretch.
“What a luxury it is to have the MVP in overtime games,” Malone said. “Knowing that you can just play through him. They double teamed him and Monte Morris made a big three. But it’s just that confidence that you have because you know in a close game he is so clutch and he’s going to make the play again and again. So for him to step up the way he did just speaks to his greatness.”
The Pelicans outscored the Nuggets 75-49 in the second and third quarters and had as much as an 11-point lead midway through the fourth. Denver got within two points with 49 seconds left and then Jokic committed an offensive foul with 19 seconds left that ultimately gave New Orleans the opportunity to close out the game and win it.
Things didn’t go as planned for New Orleans, though. Devonte’ Graham went 1 of 2 from the free throw line to make it 123-120 with 17.9 seconds left and then Jokic threw down a dunk at the other end to get Denver within one. Brandon Ingram also went 1 of 2 from the charity stripe giving the Nuggets a chance to either win it or tie it. Jokic got fouled and drained both shots to tie it up at 124 to force overtime. Jokic had 23 points in the quarter.
“I think I’m in really good shape and I think especially in that fourth quarter I think we needed to push the pace and be aggressive just to take an early advantage just to score so I think the pace needed to be on our side.”
After only scoring two points in the third quarter, Jokic flipped a switch and took over the game. As many times as Aaron Gordon has seen this, it was still unbelievable for him to watch.
“It seemed like he actually found a rhythm towards the end of the game,” Gordon said. “He was being more aggressive towards the basket. He got back to his old self. That’s what he does. He’s different.”
Denver outscored New Orleans 14-6 in overtime and went on a 12-0 run to close it out. Jokic had seven points and hit a clutch three and a midrange jumper in the closing minutes to capture the 138-130 win.
Aaron Gordon also had himself a night with 28 points. He also added eight rebounds and was a pest on the defensive end, his speciality.
“This game is a good blueprint going forward of being aggressive, really getting downhill, putting pressure on the defense, and putting pressure on the referees to make the call,” Gordon said. “Really getting downhill and he [Michael Malone] really talked about letting people off the hook and settling and fadeaways. I’m just going to continue to be aggressive, attack and assert myself on the offensive end.”
The Nuggets have now won 10 of their last 12 games and eight of their last nine. They still sit comfortably in sixth place in the Western Conference standings, two and half games in front of the Minnesota Timberwolves and one game behind the Dallas Mavericks.
Denver has the second night of a back-to-back on Monday against the Warriors before heading the Sacramento on Wednesday to face the Kings and then return to Denver the following day to play the Warriors again. That’s four games in five nights.