Nuggets show championship mettle, send message to NBA

Mar 7, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball
Mar 7, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night, the NBA world got to see one of the marquee games of the entire regular season in Denver. The Nuggets played host to NBA Finals favorites, the Boston Celtics, and got the best of them again, 115-109 in Ball Arena.

The story of this one was the play of the superstars and the late-game execution. Nikola Jokic looked the part of an MVP, going for 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. On the other end, the Celtics’ leader, Jayson Tatum had just 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 8 assists, shooting just 5/13 from the field.

The Nuggets led for most of the night, but never stretched the lead to more than 12. The Celtics made a furious push to get within two points late, but Tatum missed a corner three that would have given Boston the lead and that was that.

Crunch time

The Nuggets' execution in crunch time was pristine, as Jokic repeatedly made the right decision, getting the best of Kristaps Porzingis in one-on-one matchups, and feeding Aaron Gordon for easy baskets when the Celtics showed help.

It was another close game against a good team where the Nuggets shined under the bright lights when it mattered most. At a certain point, it stops being coincidence and luck because it seems to happen almost every time.

The Nuggets made a statement on national TV that they are still the team to beat, and the road to a championship still goes through Denver. A team is going to have to find a way to contain Jokic and out-execute the Nuggets for four out of seven games. 

Jokic's dominance

Until someone does it, it’s hard to imagine it happening. Jokic has proven he’s on a tier by himself in the basketball world right now, and that gap is amplified in clutch situations. He’s just an amazing offensive player, and he’s happy to beat teams no matter how it looks.

When the defense double-teams him, he’s patient, absorbs the double, waits for the floor to open up, and makes the right pass. If no double team comes, he’ll happily work his defender and bully him for an easy basket inside. If the defense lays off of him, he’ll hit jump shots until they adjust. 

There are no answers for the Joker at the moment, and until he slows down or someone figures it out, it’s going to be another long playoff season for the rest of the NBA.