Nikola Jokic bolsters MVP case with triple-double as Nuggets beat 76ers
Published in Basketball
If the Nuggets wanted to stage their own dunk contest, at least half of the finishes from Monday night would qualify.
On a Philadelphia defense that was missing its anchor, Joel Embiid, due to a sore right calf, the Nuggets hammered the rim and battered the scoreboard, knocking off the Sixers, 116-111, for their fourth win in a row.
Jeff Green, Aaron Gordon, Jamal Murray, Bruce Brown and Christian Braun were all among the assailants who floated through the air and pummeled the rim. Only part of the luster waned when Denver, up 20 points a few minutes into the fourth quarter, nearly squandered the lead with turnovers and poor shot selection down the stretch. What should’ve been a calm fourth quarter turned into a tense, ugly affair once the Sixers drew to within three points.
“We have to be a helluva lot better,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who was happy with the win but disgusted with the close.
While James Harden sat with injury, too, the Nuggets picked apart Philadelphia’s defense with 34 assists. Though he didn’t partake in the aerial acrobatics like the rest of his teammates, Nikola Jokic was at the heart of Denver’s devastating attack.
The two-time reigning MVP logged his 29th triple-double of the season, finishing with 25 points, 12 assists and 17 rebounds. His last two games, against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and then again on Monday night, only reinforced why he’s got another strong case to win the award again.
It was the third consecutive season Embiid was unavailable to play in Denver, owing, in part, to injuries and COVID. But the tantalizing MVP matchup didn’t materialize, and only Jokic bolstered his case.
Now 51-24, the Nuggets get a slight reprieve before hosting the Pelicans on Thursday.
The Nuggets started the third quarter like their starters didn’t want to play in the fourth. Denver ran off a 22-4 spurt to bust open a 22-point lead. Gordon, though he struggled from the field, found pay-dirt at the rim. He attacked the hoop with a fearlessness, perhaps because Embiid, Philadelphia’s primary rim deterrent, wasn’t there. On one turnover, instead of pulverizing the rim himself, Gordon lobbed one to Murray for the alley-oop.
Befuddled, the Sixers switched to a zone defense. Michael Porter Jr. snapped it with a long 3-pointer from the wing. While the Nuggets moved the ball selflessly, Jokic got more aggressive. He poured in 14 points in the quarter alone to help stake a 91-77 lead going into the fourth quarter.
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