Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets dominate Cleveland Cavaliers on Easter Sunday

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01/04/2024

Mar 31, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reacts in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 130-101 on Easter Sunday, stopping a two-game losing streak in definitive fashion against the Eastern Conference playoff team.

Nikola Jokic was outstanding, logging 28 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists en route to the blowout victory. Jokic was a whopping +37 in his 35 minutes against a frontcourt that features both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.

“It speaks to why he’s going to be a three-time MVP,” Michael Malone said postgame of his star center. “He was so into the game tonight, so into the huddles, talking to guys, being vocal on the court. That shows you the investment. That shows you how much he cares about this team.”

Jokic was sensational throughout the game, but especially when he returned to the floor in the second quarter and onward. Every possession the Nuggets had on the offensive end was a good one, finishing with an open shot. Jokic worked the ball around the floor, shot when he had to, but mostly relished in the three-point shooting and cutting the Nuggets ever able to enjoy. It was an exceptional display from Denver’s offense with Jokic at the center of it.

“We know that if you play the right way, you’ve always got a good chance of getting a shot,” Reggie Jackson shared postgame. “He’s one of the most encouraging guys, one of the best superstars at building you up and putting you in a position to be successful.”

Jackson, for his part, shot 5-of-5 from three-point range on the day, scoring 19 points and contributing in a positive way to Denver’s offense. The Nuggets know he has to be more of a scorer, and Jackson was aggressive today, finding good shooting rhythm and making the most of his opportunities on the perimeter.

The Nuggets as a team shot an absurd 21-of-33 today, making 63.6% of their three-pointers. That helps make everything easier for sure. Over the past two games against the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nuggets shot poorly from distance at 25% and 28% respectively. Making a high number of threes against a paint protecting defense like the Cavaliers certainly helped open other shots up.

“You’re going to go through parts of the season where you’re not making shot,” Malone emphasized. “What are you going to do? Feel sorry for yourself? Or just keep on playing? Today was an example of us kind of fighting through it, and we found a rhythm.”

The aforementioned Jackson was perfect from three, but he was also joined by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had 22 points on 6-of-9 from three. Michael Porter Jr. was his normal self, shooting 3-of-5 from distance. Christian Braun came off the bench and shot 2-of-3 from three, including a shot that came from the left corner off a Jokic one-timed tap pass from the paint.

It was a great night from Denver’s floor spacers, and they made life easier for everyone involved, most of all Jokic. The Nuggets center loves to keep everyone involved, rewarding great ball movement and player movement as often as possible. The Nuggets took advantage of it, including Caldwell-Pope, who was on the receiving end of one of the best Jokic assists of the year, a behind-the-back bounce pass around a defender to a cutting Caldwell-Pope for the dunk.

Today felt like not just a nice win for Denver, but also a definitive statement on the MVP race. Michael Malone declared above that Jokic will be a three-time MVP. Reggie Jackson literally called him the sun. It was one of the most impressive statistical games of the season, but it was also one where there was a visceral change in his intensity and effort throughout the game to get Denver this win. He wouldn’t allow Denver to lose, and the Nuggets played a fantastic game with him at the center of it.

“Tonight, it was him showing up and saying, ‘I’m going to do what MVPs do. I’m going to lead us to a win because we lost the last two games in a row,’” Malone declared on Jokic’s game and mentality. “It speaks to his maturity and leadership, accountability, ownership, and everything that you would apply to truly great players.”

Jokic obviously doesn’t care that much about individual MVP awards. He has said as much before, but there is a certain level a player reaches historically after they win three MVPs. Only Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Moses Malone have won three. That’s a list of eight of the 15 or so greatest players to ever play the game. Jokic could become the ninth this season (and maybe should be going for his fourth if we’re being honest).

Whatever actually happens in the MVP race, Jokic has acquitted himself well. He’s carried a heavy burden for the Nuggets, and they know it. They know that the burden will grow even heavier when the playoffs roll around.

But that’s what great players do: they rise to the moment no matter the obstacle.

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