Jokic collects MVP, goes off as Wolves 'just laugh'



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DENVER — Nikola Jokic received his third Most Valuable Player trophy from NBA commissioner Adam Silver then celebrated by dominating Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Denver Nuggets superstar exploded for 40 points, 13 assists and 7 rebounds with no turnovers to lead Denver to a 112-97 victory Tuesday night in Game 5 at a raucous Ball Arena.

Denver now leads 3-2 in the Western Conference semifinal series and can advance to the conference finals with a win in Game 6 on Thursday in Minneapolis.

“I didn’t see any weaknesses [in our defense],” Minnesota star guard Anthony Edwards said. “I seen the MVP. He showed that he’s the MVP.”

Even by Jokic’s brilliant MVP standards, the center put on a clinic against Gobert, the newly minted four-time Defensive Player of the Year, and the best defense in the NBA this season. Jokic converted 15 of 22 shots but was 8-of-9 when Gobert was his primary defender.

“Incredible,” said Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon, who had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. “He played amazing. The three-time MVP just dominated the entire game, in every aspect of it. Astounding. That was ridiculous.”

The reigning NBA Finals MVP hit Gobert and the Wolves with a dizzying array of spin moves, hook shots, 3-pointers (two of them) and even some rare dunks in transition.

“I mean, I had the open lane and just — I’m a freak of nature,” Jokic deadpanned of his slams. “And why not show my athleticism.”

Jokic’s night was so good that his opponents couldn’t do much else but laugh. His last 3-pointer was in isolation at the top of the arc against Gobert. Jokic drilled a step-back jumper with Gobert blanketed on him with 3:09 left in the contest. All Gobert could do was hold his arm up high in the air to challenge. As the Wolves called timeout down 14, Gobert’s arm sunk as if all the air had been deflated out of him.

“I just laugh,” Edwards said in reaction to Jokic’s performance. “That’s all I can do. I can’t be mad, because he’s good, man. I think I said that after Game 1, when we won, and Game 2. He’s the MVP. He’s the best player in the NBA; he showed it the last three games, three games in a row. He did it tonight.”

“He was special tonight,” added Edwards, who was held to 18 points with nine assists. “I got to give him his flowers. I don’t know what we were supposed to do.”

Since Jokic was named this season’s MVP last Wednesday, the Nuggets have won three straight games to take control of the series. In the three victories, Jokic has averaged 33 points, 9.7 assists and 9.3 rebounds and has shot 61% from the field.

“Nikola was named MVP after that Game 2 loss,” Denver coach Michael Malone said of the Nuggets’ embarrassing 106-80 loss to the Wolves on May 6. “And I think the last three games he has shown everybody why he is arguably one of the best players to play this game.”

Tuesday’s outing was Jokic’s fifth 40-point game of his playoff career yet the first time he won while scoring 40 or more. He joined Chris Paul as the only players to have 40 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers in a playoff game since individual turnovers were first tracked in 1977-78, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

Even though Jokic was named MVP last week, he didn’t receive the Michael Jordan Trophy from Silver until Tuesday night.

Jokic had 19 points and 8 assists by halftime. But in the third quarter, he was surgical. He made 6 of 7 shots and scored 16 points. Gobert and the Wolves were helpless as Jokic fueled a 36-21 run in the third to turn a one-point deficit into a 14-point lead.

Jokic buried and banked turnaround hook shots and seemed to have a counter for everything Gobert tried to use to slow him down.

“When he gets it going and he is throwing up that stupid one-legged, one-armed behind the backboard [shot], I am just [heading] back on defense,” said Denver guard Jamal Murray, who put in 16 points. “It is amazing how he picks apart and reads the game and trusts his teammates. Obviously, getting the trophy tonight probably motivated him a little bit.”

Jokic said he just hopes to have one more counter than Gobert when the two are matched up. Malone, though, said there is another level to Jokic’s genius.

“His IQ is off the charts. He probably belongs to Mensa [International],” Malone said of the high-IQ organization. “He probably doesn’t even know what Mensa is.”

Jokic will remember this night, especially how it started, with him receiving the MVP award in front of roaring fans.

“I think just the love from the crowd that you can feel in teammates, coaches,” Jokic said. “I think it’s just a moment that I remember my whole life.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.





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