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Nikola Jokic's historic performance pushes Nuggets past West-seeded Suns

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There was no better analogy for the Denver nuggets battle with the Phoenix Suns Christmas Eve than the game itself and Nikola Jokic’s performance being a gift to everyone who watched it.

Eventually, after four quarters and one overtime, the Nuggets were able to beat the Suns by a score of 128-125 and the Nuggets got big contributions from everyone on the roster.

Jamal Murray, after three lackluster quarters, finished with 26 points on 19 shooting to add to his five rebounds and five assists in 43 minutes. Murray also sent the game into overtime with a one-handed dunk with just 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Aaron Gordon, who threw stunning dunk after stunning dunk, including the bucket that gave the Nuggets their overtime lead, was amazing himself. In 41 minutes of action, Gordon finished with 28 points on 11-18 shooting to go with 13 rebounds including seven rebounds on the offensive glass. This led Jokic to call Gordon “the soul of the team”.

“Oh, by the way, Nikola had 41 (points), 15 (rebounds) and 15 (assists),” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said to remind everyone of his postgame presser at how absurd Jokic’s performance was. That’s when you know you’re a unicorn; when no one asks you even after three or four questions about 41 (points), 15 (rebounds) and 15 (assists).

Jokic was masterful. He shot 16-25 from the field, hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored 41 points to go along with 15 rebounds and 15 assists. Jokic became just the third player in NBA history to reach at least 40 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a single game, joining Oscar Robertson (who did it twice) and James Harden.

“I hope Larry Bird, Wilt and whoever else is ready for a company,” Malone said in a sly attempt to endorse his superstar center for his third straight MVP award.

Everyone who witnessed Jokic’s historic night could only laugh and marvel at the utter madness of a 41 point, 15 rebound and 15 assist performance; including Gordon who sealed Denver’s victory.

It’s unreal. It’s really like video game numbers. That’s what my friends and I joke about all the time. Those are numbers you can’t even put together in 2K and to do it that effectively,” Gordon explained after his incredible performance to help the Nuggets lock in their win over the Suns. “It’s amazing. It’s amazing. He seems to do it so effortlessly. He’s a great man. It’s really great.

It makes the game really easy. Clearly when someone has 41 (points), 15 (rebounds) and 15 (assists), the game is going to be easy,” Gordon said with a laugh.

What makes this even more absurd is that this is Jokic’s third performance to 40 or more points in his last six games.

In those six games, Jokic has a game of 43 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists against the Washington Wizardsa game of 40 points, 27 rebounds and 10 assists against the Charlotte Hornets, and his performance of 41 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists against the Suns at Christmas. That gives Jokic a six-game average of 31.8 points, 14.7 rebounds and 10.8 assists on 60.5% shooting from the field, 42.9% from 3-point range and 75.9 % on his nine free throws per game.

That’s why Malone said that, from his point of view, this was the most aggressive version of Jokic he had seen.

“I think, to be honest, I think Nikola has been very aggressive this year,” Malone said after the Nuggets’ win over the Suns.

“I think this year he has been very aggressive in scoring, very aggressive in attacking one-on-one games, very aggressive in scoring in the pocket or on the nail. So for him to go out there and have 15 assists and only 3 turnovers is just ridiculous. I like his mindset and I like his aggressive nature right now and I hope he can continue.

Predictably, Jokic had no interest in discussing his level of aggression. Never in his career has Jokic willingly admitted to entering a game with the intention of paying more aggressively. Jokic takes the games as they come and tries to allow them to unfold naturally.

“I don’t think about it to be honest,” Jokic said when asked how good he and Gordon were and to reflect on his performance. “I’m just thinking about the next game and thinking about how to play as a team. I think if you really try and really want something to happen, it’s not going to happen. It should come naturally to me.

From Murray’s perspective, Denver also has Phoenix’s number. Murray said the Suns have been the same for years — from their scheme to their roster — and that Denver is simply the better team.

“It was the same team as many years ago,” Murray said without flinching. “Same guys and same style. We know where we can attack. They played well today, but I think we are a better team personally. That’s all.”

“I just like playing against them. I like the matches. It looks like Joker does too.

Now, the Nuggets are the sole owners of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a 21-11 record. They are the only team in the West with a winning record on the road, Denver is 12-3 at home and now on a four-game winning streak.

“Merry Christmas,” Malone said to perfectly cap off what was an incredible game between the Nuggets and the Suns. “It was a hell of a game and a hell of a win.”

“Now we have to take this show on the road and not be satisfied.”

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