As the Nuggets eliminated Phoenix in a six-game series for the Western Conference’s semifinals this past weekend, Nikola Jokic‘s rivals simply marvelled over his playing mentality and leadership in Denver.
Now that the Colorado club is getting ready for Tuesday’s opener against the Lakers, which takes them one step closer to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, superstar Kevin Durant opened up about facing the Serbian big man.
“Yeah he’s ridiculous.”
Kevin Durant when asked about Nikola Jokic’s 53-point night in Game 4 🔊#NBAPlayoffs presented by @GooglePixel_US pic.twitter.com/OPoDhSqfXd
— NBA (@NBA) May 8, 2023
The Nuggets star may not have conquered a third-consecutive league MVP accolade, but he’s earned the respect of rival players and coaches all around the league.
“Jokic is an all-time great,” Durant guaranteed, as reporters asked him if he was surprised by his effectiveness. “Going to go down as one of the all-time great centers to ever touch a basketball.”
Against the Suns, Jokic averaged a triple-double (34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 10.3 assists) over the six contests, shooting nearly 60% from the floor.
Even though “The Joker” wasn’t supposed to carry as much responsibility this season, having Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray healthy, he still produced monster stat lines to guide Denver to the best record in their conference.
The Serbian registered 29 triple-doubles during regular season, holding the most in the league by far, and winning those games with a 27-2 record. Kings star center Domantas Sabonis, for example, recorded only 14.
“Not only finding his voice but being comfortable with his voice,” Denver coach Michael Malone praised his star player. “All season long there have been so many different examples … whether it’s in a timeout huddle, in the locker room, at practice, before a game in Houston when he gathered the troops together because we knew he didn’t like the way they were warming up.
“He’s had to do a little less this year” on the court, Malone explained, “because we’re healthy.”
For Jokic, his formula for success is not about reaching crazy stats or records, it’s simply about leadership, teamwork and winning no matter what.
Lakers are the team that beat the Nuggets in five games in their last visit to the West Finals in 2020
Malone and his roster are currently preparing for their first game at home as they host the Lakers for the season’s Western Conference Finals. Denver are only a series away from breaking the spell of being one of the only six franchises to have never reached the NBA Finals.
However, first they must overcome the squad that eliminated them back in the 2020 playoffs. “It’s a great challenge, of course,” Jokic expressed. “You need to play your game, trust your game, don’t let anything disturb you.”
Even though the Serbian came short of becoming only the fourth NBA player to ever be chosen the league’s MVP three times in a row and joining Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird, he only desires to conquer the championship for his franchise.
“Totally unselfish,” former Suns coach Monty Williams admitted after the series. “Just cares about winning.”
Jokic has always joked over the fact that he feels like a point guard trapped inside a center’s body, and Durant mostly agrees. “I wouldn’t say a point, well, yeah, I guess. … There’s no limit or ceiling that you can put on him. You can’t just call him a great passer or a great big man. He’s just a great basketball player.”