DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic made history the night the Denver Nuggets clinched their fourth straight playoff berth with a 122-109 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Jokic became the first player in NBA history with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.
He had 35 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and five steals on Thursday night.
“The guy is really good at basketball,” teammate Bones Hyland said.
Jokic’s big night came after receiving an inadvertent elbow from Jaren Jackson Jr. in the right forehead and temple that drew blood in the opening minute.
After being benched twice to stop the bleeding, Jokic wore a red headband for the rest of the game as he helped the Nuggets (48-33) overcome a shaky start to avoid a season sweep. at the hands of the Grizzlies.
“MVP isn’t even a competition,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said afterward. “There are other great players. I’m not saying they’re not great players. But what Nikola Jokic has done this year, with this team, everything we’ve been through, it’s just amazing.
“It was good last year and it’s even better this year.”
Despite missing out on stars Jamal Murray and Kevin Porter Jr., the Nuggets clinched a top-six spot in the Western Conference playoffs and avoided four-team play-in thanks to another standout performance from the reigning MVP.
They can still win the Northwest Division with a victory on Sunday night against the Lakers and two losses for the Utah Jazz (48-32), which ends against Phoenix and Portland.
Aaron Gordon added 22 points for Denver and Desmond Bane had 14 points for the Grizzlies, who were coming off an overtime loss at Utah on Wednesday night, have already captured the first division title in their history along with securing the second seed. in the West.
“I think we’ve been playing good basketball, including the other night against Utah. Tonight, we just didn’t have it,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said.
Jokic was the main reason.
“We threw a lot at him,” Jenkins said. “He is the Most Valuable Player for a reason. He is almost impossible to protect. He is going to beat you on the inside, on the outside, making plays. He played at a really high level tonight.”
The Grizzlies are hoping to get All-Star guard Ja Morant back this weekend from a right knee injury that has sidelined him since March 18.
Jokic took a hit to the head on the Grizzlies’ first bucket, a hit by Jaren Jackson Jr., and took to the bench for treatment. He was not back on the pitch for long before returning to the bench for more treatment and a red headband.
“My first thought was Steve Nash in that playoff series and they couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Malone said. “And I say, ‘Of all the games, Nikola gets a very non-malicious elbow, an inadvertent elbow to the head and he’s bleeding.’
“I’m saying, ‘Not tonight.’
Malone said he implored his trainers to do everything they could to stop the flow of blood.
“Like, bring a staple gun in here,” Malone said. “And finally it stopped and Nikola put on another MVP performance.”
While making history in the NBA.
However, Jokic said that he will no longer be wearing the headband. He will give that look to LeBron James.
“No, I look great,” Jokic said. “I can’t let you guys see me twice like this.”
Jokic agreed that he’s had a better season than last year, but said there are 20 superstars in this league and he’s not pushing for another MVP award himself.
“If that’s enough, that’s enough,” he said. “No, you can’t control that.”
Jokic received a Nuggets game ball as a memento of his historic night, but joked that the coaches would probably sell his blood-soaked headband on eBay.
Grizzlies: Memphis remains one win away from tying the franchise record for wins in a single season (56-26 in 2012-13). … Despite back-to-back losses to Utah and Denver, the Grizzlies went 26-15 on the road, the second-best road record in the NBA.
Nuggets: Murray missed his 81st game, but the Nuggets still haven’t ruled out a return on Sunday in the regular season finale or in the playoffs. Murray tore his left anterior cruciate ligament on April 12.
Morant is averaging 27.6 points. His return could make Memphis the NBA playoff favorite.
Jenkins said they’d like to have at least one game with their entire contingent before the postseason. But health matters more.
“If that’s not the recommendation of the medical team, we don’t think that’s the smartest move, then we won’t do it,” Jenkins said.
VIPS IN COURT
Among the VIPs on the court was new Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, R&B singer-songwriter Ciara.
“So, that was an added bonus,” Malone said of seeing Ciara, who is also a model and dancer.
He didn’t introduce himself to Ciara, “but I did talk to the guy she was with, but he didn’t give me his name,” Malone joked.
Wilson, who threw an autographed football about 40 yards into the stands in the first half, is also set to throw out the first pitch in the Colorado Rockies’ game opener on Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Grizzlies: Return home to face New Orleans on Saturday.
Nuggets: Finish the regular season at home on Sunday night against the Lakers, who will not play in these playoffs.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
JOIN THE CONVERSATION