The Nuggets trailed the Pelicans 98-89 with 10 minutes to play when Nikola Jokic re-entered the game, at that point, having a solid but borderline pedestrian performance for the reigning MVP, with 16 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. From that point forward, Jokic scored 30 points in the next 15 minutes of gameplay to almost single-handedly drag the Nuggets to a win over the surging Pelicans — who had already gotten a bit of divine intervention with a wild Brandon Ingram halftime buzzer-beater.
It was one of the most incredible runs of play you’ll ever see from a player, as he put the Nuggets on his back and carried them past a Pelicans team that played another terrific game and refused to go away. No matter what the Pelicans defense did with Jokic, he found a way to beat them. When left on an island, he went to work and found a bucket. When doubled, he either found an open shooter or cutter, or kicked out to reposition himself on the block or pop out for a three-pointer. In the pick-and-roll game, he popped and dove, finding pockets of space to work in and make himself available to teammates. In transition, he attacked before the Pelicans defense could get set.
Down the stretch, it wasn’t just his scoring that helped the Nuggets close the gap on New Orleans, but he came up with a crucial block as well.
Jokic with a huge block from the weakside and draws the foul. I can't remember the last time I've seen a player go from being a net negative defensively to be a potential all-defensive guy. Pretty amazing transformation. pic.twitter.com/gRq4RC8Ebh
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) March 7, 2022
Jokic, fittingly, got to send the game to overtime with a pair of pressure-packed free throws that he calmly knocked down — and then stole the ball and nearly set up a game-winner from Jeff Green, who airballed a hurried push shot in the paint.
In overtime, it was more of the same from Jokic, who hit shot after shot, with the Pelicans ultimately just not being able to keep up with his onslaught.
44 FOR JOKIC.
— NBA (@NBA) March 7, 2022
Jokic finished the game with 46 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocks, and three steals on 16-of-22 shooting (3-of-5 from three) in one of his finest performances of another MVP-caliber season. The win keeps the Nuggets 2.5 games ahead of the surging Timberwolves for the 6-seed in the West, while the Pelicans slide to just 1.5 games up on the Blazers for the final play-in spot, suffering their first loss since the break.