SAN FRANCISCO — Nikola Jokic wasn’t looking for the kill shot, but Steph Curry forced his unselfish hand.
With five power dribbles, Jokic worked Warriors center Kevon Looney into position. Having already bludgeoned him for 35 points, Jokic admitted he was hunting for a hook shot in the lane that would’ve tied the game at 116. Instead, he saw Curry sag into the paint, helping two lengths away from Monte Morris.
Jokic didn’t know who was open, but he saw a white blur flash out to the perimeter.
“I think whoever takes open shot, it’s a good shot,” Jokic said after the Nuggets’ stunning 117-116 win, unconcerned with whose hands he was sending the potential game-winning assist.
Big. Game. Tae.
BUZZER BEATER W. pic.twitter.com/DUZpx8ZRvL
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) February 17, 2022
As it turned out, the answer was Morris, whose 3-pointer clinched the win. Having missed three consecutive games while in concussion protocols, Morris said he was only cleared to do on-court work the last two days. Even then, he said he didn’t feel like himself as minor headaches cropped up. He stayed sharp, he said, by practicing on his pop-a-shot at home.
While Morris struggled with his rhythm throughout most of the game, entering the fourth quarter with only five points on three shots, he heeded some motherly advice.
“My mom, she’s a coach,” Morris said. “She’ll always will text me, like, ‘Y’all need to help Nikola.’”
His mom, he said, prefers calling him “Big Honey.”
Morris’ mom has urged her son to move around Jokic, potentially confusing the defense and creating a passing lane for Jokic to exploit. Jokic’s herculean effort — 35 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists — put the Nuggets on the doorstep. Morris’ clutch 3-pointer drove them into jubilation.
“I kinda knew it was good once I let it go,” Morris said.
The Nuggets stormed the court, having erased a 16-point second-half deficit to seize their fifth win in six games. The moment went to Morris, who received a post-game shower in the delirious locker room.
“That’s his nickname, Big Game Tae,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
But the sequence was also a testament to Jokic, whose skill in clutch situations is unmatched.
“The clock is moving in slow motion,” Malone said. “Is he going to go into his right hook? Is he going to drop-step, baseline and finish with his left? Or, hey, let’s forget about overtime, let’s kick-out, so we can get on this plane and get the hell home.”
Almost at a loss for words, or at least a new way to explain Jokic’s brilliance, Malone settled on wondering, aloud, what his blood pressure amounts to in clutch situations.
“I really try to remind myself never to take him for granted because he’s a great player,” he said. “I try to do the same thing with my wife. Don’t take my wife for granted.”
That Malone invoked both Jokic and his wife in the same sentence should speak volumes.
The Nuggets’ franchise foundation rests on Jokic’s burly shoulders. Indefatigable and unrelenting, Jokic has carried the Nuggets to eight games above .500 through the first 58 games of the season. Though he conceded the upcoming All-Star break wouldn’t give him much reprieve — he didn’t want to be out of the gym for consecutive days — he did allow that it might put his mind at rest for a moment.
“Yeah, why not?” he said when asked about a mental break. “I’m looking forward (to) that. Probably, a little bit mental break is going to help.”
And while the majority of the NBA kicks its feet up for more than a week, the Nuggets can marinate on one of the sweeter wins of the season.
“He can win the game with an assist like he did tonight, he can win the game with a block, like he did in Toronto, or he can win the game by scoring 50 points,” Malone said. “How many guys can do it in so many different ways?”