The best description of what happened Tuesday night in Moda Center came from Denver Nuggets Coach Mike Malone. It was clear, concise and to the point -- if a little raw.
"Jusuf Nurkic kicked our ass," Malone said after Portland's 122-113 monster win over his Nuggets. “He was very physical. To come on the road and give up 28 second-chance points, we couldn’t rebound all night. It’s a tough loss for us.”
That pretty well sums it up. And let me just say that in my many seasons of covering the NBA, I can't remember a time when a player stuck it to his former team to the degree that Nurkic (33 points, 16 rebounds, three blocked shots) did Tuesday. Many times I have seen players so choked up with a thirst for revenge against a former team that they accomplished virtually nothing. It takes something special to do what Nurkic did to his former team. And I couldn't help but think the Nugget players knew him well enough to know what was coming and were just a little bit wary of him. Almost intimidated. Read this quote carefully:
“I expected that, to be honest,” said Nikola Jokic, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. “We all expected it because I know his temper and I knew he was going to do that. I knew that he was going to be aggressive and try to have the best game of his life.”
The telling remark was "I know his temper." I think Jokic knows that Nurkic has a bit of an edge about him. He's not afraid to throw his body around -- or YOUR BODY around. And all night, it seemed Jokic, a very good player the Nuggets trusted their future to, rather than Nurkic, was tip-toeing around Nurkic. He was a little timid.
Just think about the situation. The Nuggets gave Portland Nurkic -- and a first-round draft pick -- for Mason Plumlee, who did not score in this game and was a player virtually impossible for Portland to retain past this season. It's the most lopsided trade since those Dutch colonists swung that deal with the Native Americans for Manhattan in exchange for 60 guilders -- but no draft picks and nary a single Dutchman to be named later.
The Denver deal led to Nurkic Fever, which is developing into a very torrid love affair between the player and this city's basketball fans. It's a pretty amazing affair.
It's none of my business, but somebody in Denver surely must be cleaning out a desk and checking the help-wanted ads after making that trade.