Troy Renck: Nuggets series has become Nikola Jokic vs. everybody. And Jokic always wins

Troy Renck, The Denver Post on

Published in Basketball

DENVER — Revenge games provide a platform for players to show why they should have won MVP honors. Nikola Jokic staged a revenge game to show why he did win MVP honors.

The premise was that the Minnesota Timberwolves were trying to reconnect in this series after getting skunked twice at home. They exuded confidence, convinced Tuesday would be different.

Then it became Jokic vs. Everybody. Everybody lost. The Nuggets won because he is him. Avs stars Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy delivered multiple titles. Rockies greats Todd Helton and Larry Walker remain forever immortalized in the Hall of Fame. And Alex English could slinky his way to 28 points a night.

But other than John Elway, our Babe Ruth, none of them is a bigger legend than Jokic. Even Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards conceded the obvious, a telling compliment with a knockout game looming.

“He was special. I have to give him his flowers,” Edwards said. “He was that guy.”

The only thing missing from one of the top five performances in his career was Jokic talking like Liam Neeson in his postgame presser about his “particular set of skills.”

He schooled Karl-Anthony Towns, worked over Naz Reid, and held a Roast of Rudy. Rudy Gobert owns four defensive player of the year trophies, a testament to his size, strength and length. Jokic turned him into a one-legged air dancer greeting customers at a used car lot, converting eight of nine shots with Gobert as his primary defender.

I cannot fathom how any current or former NBA player can watch Jokic and not believe two things: that he is the best in the world and that this series is over.

Jokic scored 16 points in the third quarter Tuesday. He scored 16 in the fourth quarter in Game 4. The Timberwolves felt like they were frequently in the right position, and it did not matter. When Jokic gets this hot, this aggressive, there’s little the opponent can do. Nothing screams MVP like making the competition feel powerless.

“He was in the zone. I mean a couple of shots I think I actually blocked and the ball went in,” Gobert said. “He put his team on his back in the third quarter. It was definitely one of those stretches that we are going to have to watch the film. I think there are things we should have done better, but there’s also plays he made that I think are tough to overcome.”

The Timberwolves began the playoffs with six straight victories, and now have dropped three consecutive games for the first time this season. Minnesota features two coaches — boss Chris Finch and assistant Micah Nori — who spent time on the Nuggets staff. They possess institutional knowledge. And they have no answer for the Nuggets’ basketball Einstein.


Jokic leads by example, not intimidation.

The Nuggets players do what he does out of respect, mirroring his unselfishness. What made Game 5 different and why the Timberwolves will lose Game 6 is because Jokic has solved their Rubik’s Cube. Minnesota finished the season with the league’s best defensive efficiency rating. Following its dominant first two wins, there were comparisons to the 2004 Detroit Pistons.

Time to throw those in one of the state’s 10,000 lakes. Jokic has rendered them worthless. He dropped 40 points. Jokic in the paint was Beethoven at the piano. He bullied Gobert with his forearms, sinking spinning fallaways and left-handed hooks. He sank a 3-pointer in Kyle Anderson’s face, beat Towns on a back cut for a layup, and dunked multiple times.

“I am not entirely sure what I just watched,” forward Aaron Gordon said. “It was ridiculous.”

When the Nuggets dropped the first two home games, the Timberwolves annoyed Jokic. He made 16 of 38 shots (42%) with 11 turnovers and a minus-28 rating. In an off day before Game 3, he was named MVP for the third time, only the ninth player to accomplish the feat. With the national media saying the Nuggets were cooked, it threatened to tarnish his accomplishment.

“Nikola is very relaxed. He is passionate, but he doesn’t show it,” backup center DeAndre Jordan said. “When we went down 0-2, I think a switch kind of flipped for him and our entire team.”

The three games since have been the Revenge of the Serb. Jokic has made 40 of 65 shots (61.5%) with seven turnovers and a plus-54 rating. Find a better postseason stretch for a Colorado professional athlete. I dare you. Maybe the Broncos’ Terrell Davis in the 1997 and 1998 playoffs when he put his foot in the ground for 5.52 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns. Or Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in the 2009 playoffs (10 for 17 with three extra-base hits).

For the Timberwolves to even this series, they must either stifle Jokic or match him. That is the evil of two lessers. There is no chance this will happen.

Truth is, we will not see his like again. Except on Thursday in Game 6.

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