For the second time in three game days, a huge performance by Nikola Jokic propelled the Denver Nuggets to a victory.
Earlier, it was in Game 7 of the first round series versus the San Antonio Spurs and then in Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers, he came up big to tip-off the Conference Semifinals series.
More: Takeaways from Nuggets-Blazers Game 1
En route to recording 37 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks, the Serbian Center became the first Nuggets player since Carmelo Anthony in 2009 to record 35+ points in a Conference Semifinals game.
His teammate Jamal Murray was all praise when asked about Jokic's growth as a scorer and attacker:
"He just picks his spots. He doesn't force any plays. Like you said he's such a willing passer and also gets his teammates involved, and sometimes he has an easy shot and doesn't take it. That hasn't been the case especially in the playoffs, especially in games like when we were down 2-1 in San Antonio. He was just being aggressive. In Game 7, he was being aggressive. So, I think he's found his niche in when he has to go to the rack and when he needs to defer to passing."
Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard echoed more of the same (in detail) when asked as to how the Blazers could slow down Jokic:
"He's a great player. It has to be a team effort. You are not going to completely take him out but I think you just got to make things difficult for him. We got to make him see bodies, we got to be physical, we got to be able to help, dig on the post and get back to our man but we also got to make sure that when he's putting up shots, we keep him off the glass. He's one of the best at shooting the ball, following his shot and getting the second attempt, which is usually easier than the first one for him.
He does a lot of little things that are in his favour because he doesn't depend on athleticism, speed, and all that stuff. So, it's kind of sneaky. When you relax, he's getting those extra rebounds, two points, free throws and stuff like that. As a group, we just got to be more aware of where he is, what he's doing, and just make it harder than it was tonight."
This was the second straight game this postseason that Jokic logged 40+ minutes without any dip in his production or efficiency. Nuggets' head coach Michael Malone emphasized how that is Nikola showcasing his greatness:
"He's showing maybe he's a lot tougher than any of us thought." 💪- NBA TV (@NBATV) April 30, 2019
Mike Malone on Nikola Jokic (37 PTS, 9 REB, & 6 AST) after the @nuggets take Game 1 in the #NBAPlayoffs. pic.twitter.com/4N5bLIc6bX
Game 2 between these two teams will be played in a couple of days in Denver at the Pepsi Center.