SAN FRANCISCO — Jordan Poole dropped the Golden State Warriors just one point with 14 seconds left after stealing the ball off a lazy Denver Nuggets pass and putting it back up.
But just a split second later, with the Warriors still back in transition, Nikola Jokic slotted the ball in with a crossover heave – which Jokic admitted was “a risk” after the game.
It was the one he was more than willing to take after Bones Hyland turned the ball over, leading to Poole’s bucket, and Jokic saw nothing but a swarm of Warriors shirts.
“My guys had to be open,” Jokic said.
So he threw the ball 85 feet to find a wide open Bruce Brown, who finished the game with a dunk. That – and a pair of free throws seconds later – sealed the Nuggets’ 128-123 win on Friday night.
Draymond Green said the Warriors weren’t caught sleeping on Jokic’s pass, but there was a communication breakdown. Usually, the Warriors want their center to end up under the other basket, but in this scenario, the center was green and he was trapping.
“It’s an unfamiliar position for our guards. The guards don’t protect the basket,” Green said. “That’s something I could have communicated. I should have communicated that we need to make sure we have a man back, and that’s something we can learn from.”
Jokic finished the game with 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – his 77th career triple-double. Jokic now has the second most triple-doubles by a center in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain (78).
Jokic scored or assisted on 50 Denver points, but it was his passing that stood out above his other stats.
“Honestly, we’re eight years together now and [nothing surprises me]”Said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “So many big games, so many times where he made the big play, the good play and a game-changing type of game. … His IQ is off the charts. He’s over there playing chess and a lot of other guys are playing checkers.”
Against the Warriors, the Nuggets scored 24 points on Jokic’s passes on 10 of 15 shooting, including 4 of 7 of 3. Three of his 10 assists came in transition, and six of them led to looks open.
Five different teammates scored his assists, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown benefiting the most.
Caldwell-Pope fired 3-of-5 from Jokic’s passes, while Brown hit a perfect 4-of-4, including the game-winning dunk.
Before the game, Malone spoke about his team’s need to build chemistry as the Nuggets welcomed eight new players, including Caldwell-Pope and Brown, and reinstated Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
With that in mind, Malone challenged Jokic to take his leadership to the next level by not just playing by example, but by speaking up and teaching.
Three or four times on Friday, Malone said he saw Jokic grab the whiteboard during timeouts to explain to his new and younger teammates where he wanted them to play.
“If you ask Bruce and Kenny Pope, from afar they probably admired Jokic’s passing after playing against him. But it’s different to watch now that you’re with him,” Malone said. “He makes the game so easy, but you have to be ready.”
The Nuggets headed into halftime after scoring 70 points and 18-plus over Golden State, but a Warriors patent rush in the third quarter to pair with a strong fourth put them within eight with about five minutes to go.
Stephen Curry finished with 34 points on 10 of 22 shooting, while Andrew Wiggins added 23 points and eight rebounds and Draymond Green had 13 points and nine assists.
But Denver beat the Warriors 9-4 in record time to seal their win.
“Our second quarter was one of our best in a long time against a quality opponent,” Malone said. “But at the end of the day, there’s so much we have to clean up. … But it’s a hell of a win. We can savor it for about two and a half hours on the plane, and then tomorrow night we have our home opening.”
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