Appreciate his precision or yawn at his pedestrian pace, you’ve never seen a basketball player like Nikola Jokic. One of one in the history of the NBA.
There are shades of previous players, to be sure. Tim Duncan. Dirk Nowitzki. Larry Bird. Hakeem Olajuwon. Arvydas Sabonis.
But there has never been such a massive man who dominates a league with his eyes. That vision and hand-eye coordination pushes the basketball to places that shouldn’t be possible when the player is both the slowest and least explosive on the court.
It’s amazing and nowadays expected from Jokic, a two-time MVP who is three wins from securing an upper echelon legacy. In Thursday night’s 104-93 Game 1 victory over the Heat, it wasn’t just that Jokic finished with 27 points with 14 assists and ten rebounds — joining Jason Kidd as the only players to record triple-doubles in their NBA Finals debuts — it was that he dominated the opening quarter while taking just one shot.
He deflated the Heat, right from the opening tip. There’s no game plan to stop it. Throw a double team at Jokic, he’ll beat you by passing. Give Jokic space, he’ll back you down and score. There’s very rarely a possession where Jokic doesn’t make the right play.
“I think that’s the beauty of Nikola,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “I learned a long time ago the defense tells you what to do, and Nikola never forces it. If they’re going to give him that kind of attention, he had 10 assists at halftime, I believe. Well, he’s going to just pick you apart. Now it’s up to the other guys to step in and make shots.”
If there’s any coach who can find an answer, it’s Erik Spoelstra, arguably the best tactician on an NBA sideline. But nobody has come close in the last two months. The Nuggets are 13-3 in the playoffs while steamrolling Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Spoelstra was also flattened in Game 1.
“One way or another, we have to find out a way to get the job done,” the Heat coach said.
It would be unfair and premature to bury the Heat. They’ve built enough trust equity against the odds to receive hope, if only a glimmer. You have to figure Max Strus and Caleb Martin won’t again shoot a combined 1-for-17 again like in Game 1. You have to believe Jimmy Butler will be better and more aggressive after scoring just 13 points with a -17 plus/minus. You’d think the Heat will get to the foul line more often than their two total free-throw attempts. Perhaps their lungs will be better adjusted to the altitude in Denver for Sunday’s Game 2.
But stopping the Nuggets’ offense has been impossible for everybody else. They’re on a string and Jokic, the superstar impossible to fathom as a concept before his arrival, is pulling it in any direction he pleases.
“I think this is most incredible run I’ve ever seen,” Paul Pierce said recently on Kevin Garnett’s show. “This run by him is one of the most incredible. ….And he just swept LeBron. LeBron doesn’t get swept.”
Source: Berkshire mont