It seemed pretty clear from the onset of Game 2 that the Phoenix Suns‘ plan was to try and shut down everyone else on the Denver Nuggets team and make Nikola Jokic beat them. That worked for the first half, as the Suns carried a slim 42-40 lead after two quarters. But then, as all great players do, Jokic took it upon himself to carry his team to a 97-87 win to give Denver a 2-0 series lead.
The two-time MVP proceeded to score 26 of his 39 points in the second half, including a third quarter in which he racked up 18 points on 7 of 11 from the field. He also finished with 16 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in the win.
It was a masterclass in post scoring from Jokic, who used a variety of floaters, runners and crafty layups to do his damage. Credit the Suns for making it difficult on Jokic, especially Deandre Ayton who held his own when the Serbian big man tried to back him down, but there isn’t much you can do when he’s got stuff like this in his arsenal:
After allowing three Denver players to score 20+ points in Game 1, the Suns focused on limiting Jokic’s ability to create shots for his teammates. It was a smart gameplan, but it didn’t account for another off shooting night from the Suns, mixed with Jokic shooting 56.7% from the field on 30 attempts. Those 30 field goal attempts were the most Jokic has taken all season long, which isn’t surprising given that he impacts the game with passing and rebounding in addition to his scoring, as well.
But Monday night, Jokic’s scoring was essential for a Nuggets team that shot the ball rather poorly compared to Game 1, including just 25.9% from 3-point territory. Jamal Murray, who racked up 34 points in Denver’s Game 1 win, finished with just 10 points, going 3 of 15 from the field and missing all nine of his 3-point attempts. Michael Porter Jr. had another quiet night, finishing with five points, and while Aaron Gordon’s 16 points were a step down than the 23 he provided in Game 1, his second-half defense on Kevin Durant was a factor in the Nuggets winning the game.
After the game, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone praised his star player for taking over the game in the second half.
“He was phenomenal tonight,” Malone said. “One of my favorite stats is that he had 30 field goal attempts, being aggressive. Other guys struggled to make shots tonight, but when that’s happening we need somebody to step up and I thought Nikola did that. He’s an MVP for a reason.”
The Nuggets don’t need Jokic to go out and put up nearly 40 points every night. But on nights like Monday, where his teammates are struggling to find their shot, Jokic showed that, like Malone said, he’s an MVP for a reason.