There was no better analogy for the Denver Nuggets battle with the Phoenix Suns on Christmas night than the game itself and Nikola Jokic’s performance being a gift to all who watched it.
Eventually, after four quarters and an overtime period, the Nuggets were able to overcome the Suns by a score of 128-125 and the Nuggets got big contributions from everyone on the roster.
Jamal Murray, after a lackluster three quarters, ended up with 26 points on 19 shots to add to his five rebounds and five assists in a whopping 43 minutes. Murray also sent the game to overtime with a one-handed dunk with just 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Aaron Gordon, who threw down stunning dunk after stunning dunk including the bucket that gave the Nuggets their overtime lead, was incredible himself. In 41 minutes of action, Gordon finished with 28 points on 11-18 shooting to go with 13 rebounds including seven rebounds on the offensive glass. That led to Jokic calling Gordon the “soul of the team”.
“Oh, by the way, Nikola had 41 (points), 15 (rebounds) and 15 (assists),” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone stated to remind everyone at his postgame presser just how absurd Jokic’s performance was. “That is when you know you are a unicorn; when no one even asks you after three or four questions about the 41 (points), 15 (rebounds) and 15 (assists).”
Jokic was masterful. He shot 16-25 from the field, hit a pair of 3-pointers, and scored 41 points to go with 15 rebounds and 15 assists. Jokic became just the third player in NBA history to reach at least 40 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a single game joining Oscar Robertson (who did so twice) and James Harden.
“I hope Larry Bird, Wilt, and who ever else are ready for some company,” Malone said in a sly attempt to endorse his superstar center for his third-straight MVP award.
Everyone who witnessed Jokic’s historic night could only laugh and marvel at the complete insanity that is a 41-point, 15-rebound, 15-assist performance; including Gordon who sealed Denver’s win.
“It’s unreal. It is really like video game numbers. That is what me and my friends joke about all the time. These are numbers you cannot even put up in 2K and to do it as efficiently as well,” Gordon explained after his incredible performance to help the Nuggets lock in their win over the Suns. “It’s amazing. It’s amazing. He looks like he does it so effortlessly too. It’s great man. It’s really great.”
“He just makes the game really easy. Clearly when someone has 41 (points), 15 (rebounds) and 15 (assists), the game is going to be easy,” Gordon said with a laugh.
What makes this even more absurd is that this is Jokic’s third 40-or-more point performance in his last six games.
Over those six games, Jokic has a 43-point, 14-rebound, 8-assist game against the Washington Wizards, a 40-point, 27-rebound, 10-assist game against the Charlotte Hornets, and his 41-point, 15 – rebound, 15-assist performance against the Suns on Christmas. That gives Jokic a six-game average of 31.8 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 10.8 assists on 60.5% shooting from the field, 42.9% from 3-point range, and 75.9% on his nine free throws per game.
That is why Malone said, from his point of view, this has been the most aggressive version of Jokic that he has seen.
“I think, to be honest, I think Nikola has been ultra aggressive this year,” Malone said after the Nuggets win over the Suns.
“I think this year, he has been very aggressive to score, very aggressive to attack one-on-one matchups, very aggressive to score in the pocket or at the nail. So, for him to go out there and have 15 assists and just 3 turnovers, that is just ridiculous. I like his mindset and I like his aggressive nature at the moment and hopefully that can continue.”
As expected, Jokic had no interest in discussing his level of aggressiveness. Never in his career has Jokic willingly acknowledged going into a game with the intention of paying more aggressively. Jokic takes games as they come and tries to allow them to unfold naturally.
“I don’t think about it to be honest,” Jokic said when asked about how good he and Gordon are and to reflect on his performance. “I just think about the next game and think how to perform as a team. I think if you really try and really want something to happen, it is not going to happen. It needs to come naturally in my opinion.”
From Murray’s perspective, Denver also has Phoenix’s number. Murray said the Suns have been the same for years — from their scheme to their roster — and that Denver is simply the better team.
“It was the same team from however many years ago,” Murray stated unflinchingly. “Same guys and same style. We know where we can attack. They played well today, but I think we are a better team personally. That’s all.”
“I just like playing against them. I like the matchups. Seems like Joker does too.”
Now, the Nuggets are the sole owners of the first seed in the Western Conference with a 21-11 record. They are the only team in the West with a winning road record, Denver is 12-3 at home and now on a four-game winning streak.
“Merry Christmas,” Malone said to perfectly cap off what was an incredible game between the Nuggets and Suns. “That was a hell of a game and a hell of a win.”
“Now we have to take this show on the road and not be satisfied.”