In a game as hideous as the weather, the only thing that could salvage it was Nikola Jokic’s beautiful game.
The two-time reigning MVP made more history when he became Denver’s all-time leader in assists, yet it was the 122-118 win that mattered most. Denver’s eighth win in a row was also its 15 consecutive at home. Now 32-13, the Nuggets will host Indiana on Friday and try to keep their streak alive.
On Wednesday, it wouldn’t have happened without Jamal Murray, who buried a clutch 3-pointer late, then finished a layup in traffic to give Denver a 120-118 lead with less than a minute left. Murray finished with 28 points, including seven in the fourth quarter.
Jokic registered his 14th triple-double of the season, including his second in as many nights. He ended his historic night with 31 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. His final dime, a helper to Aaron Gordon for a dunk, was the dagger.
The Wolves had seven guys in double-figures, but were undone by 19 turnovers. The Nugget weren’t much better themselves, finishing with 16 on the evening. But Jokic and Murray’s fourth quarter saved the streak.
Asked about Jokic’s passing, acting head coach David Adelman made sure to acknowledge Alex English’s hallowed place in Nuggets history as well. But with 8:41 left in the third quarter, Jokic surpassed English as the franchise’s all-time leader in assists. He hustled on an out-of-bounds and caught the Timberwolves napping when he inbounded it quickly to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for an easy bucket.
His seventh assist of the night gave him 3,680 for his career. He took over sole possession of first place despite playing 269 fewer games than English.
A few minutes later, the Nuggets honored Jokic with a video montage of his best assists. As fans roared in adulation, he celebrated by shaking hands with a few of his teammates in typical Jokic fashion.
“It’s not normal,” Adelman said before game, explaining that Jokic had the vision of John Stockton tucked inside a seven-foot body. Adelman then went out on a pretty sturdy limb and guessed that Jokic would go down as the franchise’s greatest player ever.
Being as familiar with his tendencies as any team, the Timberwolves chose physicality with Jokic. Their big men roughed him up, while Kyle Anderson offered a different defensive vantage point. After three quick buckets in the third quarter, Jokic found himself mired in foul trouble and was forced to the bench. Murray tried to carry the offense, with varying degrees of success, but the Timberwolves were unrelenting. They played with an upstart energy and carried a 95-88 lead into the fourth quarter.
Despite their winning streak, Adelman had no reason to take the Timberwolves lightly.
“Well, they’ve beat us four times in a row, too,” he said. “… I thought they physically dominated us on the glass, especially their second unit, last time out. They drove the ball and got to the paint when they wanted to. We have to have a much better physical mindset from the tip. Again, it doesn’t matter we are No. 1 in the West. That’s great, but tonight is them. … Our focus has to be to come with a physical mindset.”
Adelman later summarized his philosophy into three words.
“Aggression always wins,” he said.
Though Jokic was sensational, heading to the break with 19 points and six assists, he was also in foul trouble and limited to only 14 minutes in the first half. That, and the Nuggets’ overall carelessness, gave the Wolves an opening. Minnesota took a 60-55 lead into halftime.
After turning it over 11 times each, both teams had ample room for improvement.