Jokic the star as Nuggets advance

Denver Nuggets' Gary Harris going for the basket in their NBA play-off first-round game against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. The Nuggets won 90-86 to advance to the Western Conference semi-finals.
Denver Nuggets' Gary Harris going for the basket in their NBA play-off first-round game against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. The Nuggets won 90-86 to advance to the Western Conference semi-finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Nikola Jokic, Nuggets centre.
Nikola Jokic

Serb star's triple-double sees young Denver team battle past play-off veterans Spurs 4-3

DENVER • The San Antonio Spurs have been to the play-offs for 22 consecutive times while the Denver Nuggets were making only their first appearance in the post-season since 2013.

But, on Saturday, their young roster were the ones that showed a veteran's poise in the series-deciding Game 7.

Nikola Jokic had a triple-double, finishing with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, and Jamal Murray led all scorers with 23 points as the hosts punched their ticket to the second round of the National Basketball Association play-offs with a 90-86 win over the Spurs.

All the talk prior to the match-up had been on how the experience of wily San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who was taking charge of his 11th career Game 7, would get the visitors over the line.

However, his opposite number, Michael Malone, who is experiencing the play-offs for the first time, was quietly confident his team would "hold their composure".

They certainly kept it together at the Pepsi Centre, never trailing all night despite a team-leading 21 points from Spurs forward Rudy Gay, and a big reason why Denver came up clutch had to do with Jokic.

NO BIG DEAL, JUST GOOD STATS

So is it something that I live for? No. It's just really good stats.

NIKOLA JOKIC, Nuggets centre, on helping the team make the Western Conference semi-finals.

The All-Star centre averaged 23.1 points, 12.1 rebounds and 9.1 assists across the seven games - joining NBA great Oscar Robertson as the only player to record the same numbers in 1963.

Afterwards, Malone praised the way the Serb, who played all 43 minutes, had carried his team through to the Western Conference's semi-finals for the first time in a decade, claiming his displays had "strengthened my belief that he's a future Hall of Famer".

He added: "I can't take him out. Even when he's not making shots, he has a tremendous impact on the game.

"I am extremely happy and proud of my guys. This was a really hard-fought series. If we played them 20 times, it would be 10-10. I love our grit and toughness tonight."

Popovich, who has now lost in the first round in consecutive seasons for the first time, admitted Jokic was simply "magnificent" and he could only "leave it at that".

Jokic, though, in customary fashion downplayed the plaudits, insisting that the victory was all that counted.

Asked about his feat to help the Nuggets clinch their first Game 7 since 1978, he told ESPN: "The team expected me to do something, so I'm just going out there and trying to play my best basketball possible.

"So is it something that I live for? No. It's just really good stats."

The second seeds will now advance to play the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with Game 1 scheduled for today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) in Denver.

In Toronto, Kawhi Leonard scored a career play-off best 45 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Raptors defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 108-95 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The Sixers were paced by 17 points from guard J.J. Redick, but they were unable to overcome "a superstar" effort from the All-Star forward. Game 2 will be held at the Scotiabank Arena today.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2019, with the headline 'Jokic the star as Nuggets advance'. Print Edition | Subscribe