Nuggets teammates on Nikola Jokic’s Game 6 heroics: “He’s the best player in the world”

It takes a special circumstance to get a rise out of Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic.

He’s faced elimination five times this postseason alone, and all five times the Nuggets have won, with Jokic laughing off the pressure as nothing more than competitive fun.

“We don’t care,” said Jokic of the tension his team continues to ignore. He just enjoys the ride.

His 34-point, 14-rebound, seven-assist effort Sunday elevated his franchise to a fourth consecutive Game 7 and the second one in a row that would re-write NBA history and defy common sense. Their improbable 111-98 win over the Clippers forced a winner-take-all Game 7 on Tuesday night.

Either Jokic rises to the occasion or is unaffected by the threat of elimination. In the team’s last five elimination games, Jokic has averaged 27.8 points on 55% shooting, 54% from 3-point range, 10.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

But amid Sunday’s dramatic Game 6 win, Nuggets coach Michael Malone saw a passion from Jokic that always burns but rarely erupts. It did Sunday, as Jokic’s team charged back from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter, ultimately pounding the Clippers by a 29-point margin in the second half.

“My favorite part about Nikola Jokic – he doesn’t get really excited too often, but when we went on that run, and we were getting stops, they were calling timeout … we’re making the right play, the ball was flying, when I see Nikola emotional and yelling and screaming and pounding his chest, I know we’re in a good place,” said Malone.

Jokic isn’t the emotional touchstone of the Nuggets. That spot is reserved for Jamal Murray. But when the Nuggets need confidence, it’s their steady superstar who helps them navigate deficits, like the three times this postseason they’ve trailed by at least 15 points in elimination games only to win.

“Tonight, Nikola Jokic was the best player in the world,” Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. said.

Not to be outdone by a rookie, Murray backed up the claim.

“I think he was, too,” Murray said. “I don’t see why not. He’s hitting one-legged step-backs, fading away, off one leg with a hand in his face, consecutive times. I’d say he’s the best player in the world.”

Murray was referencing the one-legged, 3-point fadeaway Jokic sunk in the first half, and the falling, flailing jumper he drained during the Nuggets’ third-quarter stampede. While he and his teammates were picking apart Los Angeles’ defense on one end, they were cinching tight any offensive rhythm the Clippers had on the other.

“Even Torrey Craig had a couple assists,” Jokic said. “That doesn’t seem, like, usually.”

Before Sunday’s Game 6, Clippers coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t even acknowledge a question about Jokic’s carefree attitude toward elimination games. To him, it just didn’t compute.

“I don’t think they are loose,” he said.

Not anymore they’re not. Now they’re on the brink of history – again.

“It’s just fun when we know that we can do something, “Jokic said. “… When you see that it’s going your way, the rhythm, you had the momentum, you get emotional.”

Harris’ help: When Gary Harris returned late in the first round against the Jazz, it was his defense that helped them win the series. On Sunday, it was his offense that opened a release valve for Jokic and Murray.

Harris buried 16 points with two 3-pointers, spreading Los Angeles’ defense on the perimeter and forcing double teams away from the Nuggets’ two stars.

“Any time they put two on Nikola, they put two on Jamal, that means there’s an open man somewhere,” Malone said. “And the only way you’re going to get them out of double-teaming is if somebody else steps up and makes a play. In Game 2, our first win against them, Gary Harris hit three 3s in the fourth quarter, allowed us to get that win. Tonight, I love Gary’s attack mentality. … He had no hesitation on his jump shot.”