Nikola Jokić made history with a triple-double on Tuesday night to lead the Denver Nuggets to a comfortable 118-102 Game 5 win in their Western Conference playoff series against the Phoenix Suns.
The victory means the Nuggets regain the upper hand in the best-of-seven series, with Denver now leading 3-2 and needing just one more win to advance to the next round.
The Nuggets were spearheaded as usual by Jokić, who created yet more history with his excellent all-around performance.
The two-time NBA MVP finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists to bag his 10th career playoff triple double, meaning he now has the most playoff triple-doubles by a center. The six-foot-11-inch Serbian moved past NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain to stand alone at his position with the achievement.
After the convincing victory, Jokić was quick to focus on the win, rather than his personal milestone.
“To be honest, I just like to win the game, so whatever it takes,” Jokić – who is now averaging 35 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in the series against the Suns – told reporters.
However, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was much more effusive.
“Nikola never forces anything. I mean, he’s a guy that literally will just read the game and take what the game offers,” Malone said.
“I think sometimes we may take Nikola Jokić for granted because what he is doing is just incredible every single night.”
Game 5 took place just two days after Jokić shoved Suns owner Mat Ishbia in Phoenix – but the pair appeared to make up before Tuesday’s game with an embrace.
After an even first half, the Nuggets took control of Game 5 in the third quarter, exploding for 39 points while tensions rose between the two squads.
Kevin Durant shoved Jokić in the quarter after Denver’s guard Bruce Brown appeared to be trying to glean information from a Suns huddle. Both Durant and Brown were assessed technical fouls for the incident.
By midway through the fourth quarter, the Nuggets had a lead of over 20 points and the Suns pulled their starters and waved the white flag.
Brown provided a key thrust for Denver throughout, scoring 25 points off the bench, something Jokić was keen to praise.
“He can push the pace, he can defend, he can go downhill, and he had 10 free throws,” Jokić said. “Going downhill, breaking that first line of defense … He was really good today.”
Both Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray added 19 points apiece.
Devin Booker led the way for the Suns with 28 points while Durant added 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
The home team has now won every game in the series so far, with Game 6 taking place in Phoenix on Thursday.
Despite the loss and facing elimination, Booker says he is confident his side can bounce back again, just like they have done before.
“Yeah. I’ve been in here a couple of times now,” Booker told reporters. “I love it.
“Every game has its own character. Every game is its own movie, its own different preparation and everything to go with it. We’re going watch over film, see how we can be better for Game 6.”