After Nikola Jokic’s dominance in Game 3 had him amongst a litany of legends, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player candidate was out of sorts on Saturday night.
As the Nuggets got blown out by the Blazers in Game 4 with a 115-95 loss to tie up the series 2-2, the Joker finished with just 16 points on 7-of-18 shooting and added nine rebounds in one assist.
In 27 minutes of play, he finished with a minus-32 rating, the worst of his career.
Prior to Game 4, Jokic had been averaging 36.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the series. So, what changed Saturday night?
“Give Nurk (Jusuf Nurkic) credit, he was playing really good defense,” Jokic said postgame. “Not just him, the whole Portland team played really good D, especially early in the game, and even if I was open, sometimes I missed. But give Nurk credit he played amazing defense.”
Nurkic was the difference-maker for Portland in stopping Jokic. His defense forced the Nuggets big man into taking tough shots and he did so without getting into to foul trouble. The Blazers' starting center had fouled out of Game 2 and Game 3, but in Saturday’s victory, he wrapped the game with just three fouls and a solid +32.
“That was key,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “We’re obviously better when Nurk is able to stay on the floor, especially against Denver. The offense comes and goes. He gets his opportunities, but I thought he really locked in defensively and was solid. He didn’t gamble very much and like I said, defended without fouling.”
Ultimately it was Nurkic who won the battle of the bigs in Game 4 with his defensive prowess to go along with 17 points and 6 rebounds.
As for the Nuggets, they’ll have some time to counter Portland’s adjustments ahead of Game 5’s tip off at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday.
Jokic can’t continue to be a one-man wrecking ball himself. Denver’s starters were outscored 49-26 in Game 4 and shot just 30% from the field, allowing Portland to shoot 65% when they were on the floor. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he hoped the loss would be a “wake up call,” for his starters.
As for Jokic, he said his preparations for Game 5 remain the same as always.
"I'm going to play how I always play," Jokic said. "I'm not going to force it. I'm not going to do anything stupid. I'm just going to play the game like I'm playing for the final games."