DENVER --- One day after opining that Nikola Jokić is deserving of becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to win three straight most valuable player awards, Nikola Vučević outplayed him.
“It wasn’t as much me against him in a 1-on-1 situation. The way they defend opened up a lot for me in the pocket and we were able to exploit that,” Vučević said following the Chicago Bulls’ 117-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets. “A lot of times it was Zach (LaVine) and DeMar (DeRozan) in pick-and-roll doing a good job of making Jokić commit to them and then giving me the ball in the pocket and making plays. I thought guys on the weakside did a good job of cutting or getting in open spots for me to find them.”
Vučević finished with three of the Bulls’ 26 assists on 51.7 percent shooting in the offensive display that handed the Nuggets just their fifth home loss. But his 25 points and 15 rebounds gave him the upper hand on Jokić, who finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
“Man, Vooch was ready to go from the jump, offensively and defensively,” LaVine said. “I wonder if they’re going to go get dinner.”
Smiling, Vučević confirmed they had plans to do so.
Coach Billy Donovan called Jokić “like, impossible to guard” because of his connecting ability for his teammates. But he also said Vučević had a similar connecting quality on Wednesday.
“We were a lot more aggressive in pick-and-roll, our guards. When we take a dribble and pick it up and don’t string it out and don’t open up the pocket for him to get it, it’s hard. Vooch is always going to be an efficient player based on the people around him and how he gets the ball. I thought we found him all the right spots,” Donovan said. “He could’ve had a lot more points. I thought he had some mismatches up front that he got fouled on. He had some 3s. He made midrange. He got a couple post-ups. He kind of did everything. But the thing that was most impressive was when he got the ball in the middle of the floor, he connected us. He made really good decisions.”
Indeed, Vučević found a cutting Patrick Williams for a dunk and Alex Caruso for a layup.
“We executed our game plan and that led to us playing with a lot of energy,” Vučević said. “Whenever we play that way, we’re a really good team.
“When Zach and DeMar (DeRozan) are aggressive, it opens up everything for us. It doesn’t have to be them scoring. It can them just making the big man commit. Once they do that, I’m either going to be open in the pocket or pop or the weakside is going to be open. We need those two guys to be aggressive. We played off them and were really efficient.”
Wonder who picked up the dinner tab.