SAN FRANCISCO — Jordan Poole put the Golden State Warriors down just one point with 14 seconds remaining after stealing the ball from a lazy Denver Nuggets pass and putting it back on.
But just a split second later, when the Warriors were still moving back into transition, Nikola Jokic sent the ball in a crossover motion, something Jokic admitted was “a risk” after the game.
It was one he was more than willing to take after Bones Hyland turned the ball over, leading to Poole’s bucket, and Jokic saw nothing but a swarm of Warriors jerseys.
“My guys had to be open,” Jokic said.
So he threw the ball 85 feet to find Bruce Brown wide open, who completed the play with a dunk. That, and a pair of free throws a few seconds later, sealed the Nuggets’ 128-123 win on Friday night.
Draymond Green said the Warriors weren’t exactly caught sleeping on Jokic’s pass, but there was a miscommunication. Usually, the Warriors want their center to return under the other basket, but in this scenario, the center was Green and he was catching.
“It’s an unfamiliar position for our guards. Guards don’t guard the basket,” Green said. “That’s something that could have communicated. It should have communicated that we need to make sure we get a guy back, and that’s something we can learn from.”
Jokic finished the game with 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, the 77th triple-double of his career. Jokic now has the second-most triple-doubles by a center in NBA history behind only Wilt Chamberlain (78).
Jokic scored or assisted in 50 of Denver’s points, but it was his passing that stood out above his other stats.
“Honestly, we have eight years together now and [nothing surprises me]Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “So many big games, so many moments where he made the big play, the right play and a game-changing type of play … his IQ is off the charts. He is playing chess and a lot of other guys are playing checkers.”
Against the Warriors, the Nuggets scored 24 points on Jokic’s passes on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range. Three of his 10 assists came in transition and six of them led to wide looks.
Five different teammates scored off their passes, with Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Bruce Brown benefiting the most.
Caldwell-Pope shot 3 of 5 passes from Jokic, while Brown went a perfect 4 of 4, including the game-winning dunk.
Before the game, Malone spoke about the need for his team to develop chemistry as the Nuggets welcomed eight new players, including Caldwell-Pope and Brown, and reinstated Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
With that in mind, Malone has been challenging Jokic to take his leadership to the next level by not just leading by example, but speaking out and teaching.
Three of four times on Friday, Malone saw Jokic grab the board during timeouts and reach out to his new, younger teammates, explaining where he wants them on the snaps.
“If you ask Bruce and Kenny Pope, from afar they probably admired Jokic’s death playing against him. But it’s different to see it now that you’re with him,” Malone said. “He makes the game so easy, but you have to be ready.”
The Nuggets headed into halftime having scored 70 points and led Golden State by 18, but a Warriors patent run in the third quarter to match a strong quarter put them within eight with about five minutes remaining.
Stephen Curry finished with 34 points on 10-for-22 shooting, while Andrew Wiggins added 23 points and eight rebounds and Draymond Green had 13 points and nine assists.
But Denver outscored the Warriors 9-4 at the clincher to seal their victory.
“Our second quarter was one of our best quarters in a long time against a quality opponent,” Malone said. “But down the stretch, there’s so much to clean up… But it’s a big win. We can savor it for about two and a half hours on the plane, and then tomorrow night we have our home.” can opener.”