Nikola Jokic didn’t win his third straight Most Valuable Player Award this season, but he still ended up with an MVP trophy after all.
In addition to getting the championship he has coveted, Jokic was named NBA Finals MVP after the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 94-89 in Game 5 at Ball Arena.
Jokic closed out Miami with 28 points, 16 rebounds and 4 assists to help the Nuggets win the franchise’s first NBA title. Like every opponent the Nuggets faced this postseason, the Heat had very few answers for Jokic.
When asked how it feels to be an NBA champion, Jokic told ESPN’s Lisa Salters on the court: “It’s good. It’s good. The job is done, and we can go home now.”
Prior to this championship run, Jokic, 28, was already considered one of the best players in the league. But now that he has won a championship and a Finals MVP, one NBA Hall of Famer says this catapults the Serbian big man into a different stratosphere.
“It puts him in the legendary category for what he’s done statistically in the Finals,”
“I don’t know if there’s anyone who’s ever had a statistical run in the NBA Finals as a center as he had in these categories.”Former Detroit Pistons great Isiah Thomas told ESPN.
After a couple of years of much debate over who the regular-season MVP should have been between Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thomas said it’s hard to argue who is the best player in the world.
“Hey, right now, when you’re the champ and your team [wins the title], you’re the best player and the best team,” said Thomas, the 1990 Finals MVP. “And it may not be for [the next] five years. But when you’re talking about like now, the best player now is him. And the best team is the Denver Nuggets.
“When you’re a champion, that’s all that matters. If you can say, ‘I’m the best in the world,’ even it’s only for a day, or even if it’s for a year, what a remarkable moment to have for yourself. And then be stamped. And everyone acknowledges that. No greater feeling.”Former Detroit Pistons great Isiah Thomas told ESPN.
Jokic is the lowest-drafted player (41st overall in the second round in 2014) to win the Finals MVP, passing Dennis Johnson, who was drafted 29th overall in 1979, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also becomes only the third second-round pick to win Finals MVP, joining Willis Reed and Johnson (Moses Malone won the 1983 Finals MVP with the Philadelphia 76ers but wasn’t drafted by an NBA team because he started his career in the ABA with the Utah Stars).
“I think it’s a great journey,”
“Like you said, 41st pick, but that doesn’t matter. When you’re here, you’re a [NBA] player.”Jokic said about going from a second-round pick to Finals MVP.
Jokic joins Antetokounmpo, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players born overseas to take home the Finals award. And he did it by putting together one of the all-time great postseason runs. He was averaging a triple-double for most of the postseason until the Finals. He had 10 triple-doubles during this run, with eight in a 12-game span.
Jokic put up some eye-popping performances, including 53 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4 at Phoenix in the second round and becoming the first player to have a 30-20-10 triple-double in Finals history with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 3 at Miami.
“Jokic is an all-time great,” Phoenix’s Kevin Durant said after Jokic averaged 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists against the Suns. “Going to go down as one of the all-time great centers to ever touch a basketball.”
Jokic’s Nuggets eliminated Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards in the first round, Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Durant in the second and swept the Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis — who beat Jokic and the Nuggets in the West finals in 2020 — in the conference finals before dispatching Jimmy Butler and the Heat.
“I know how great he is,”
“I know how great Jokic is. There are certain guys in this league that play the game a certain way, a certain way that I like to play the game as well, and he’s one of them where you are always off-balance when you are guarding a player like that because of his ability to score, rebound, shoot. He sees plays before they happen.
“There’s not many guys in our league like that. So you already knew you was going against a beast once the series started, and not only just about his game. Everybody gets cracked up into his stats but I don’t think a lot of people talk about [the cerebral part] of his game. Maybe it’s not talked about it, because a lot of people don’t understand it, but I do. He’s special.”James said about Jokic after the Nuggets eliminated the Lakers.
As James alluded to, Jokic found himself subjected to the debate over whether he should win a third straight MVP in 2022-23, which would have put him in rare company alongside only Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
This season, Jokic seemed to tire of the conjecture surrounding the MVP race between himself, Embiid and Antetokounmpo. After winning the previous two MVPs back-to-back, Jokic received criticism from those who said he wasn’t the best player in the NBA.
It became louder as detractors pointed toward accusations of stat-padding while Jokic collected 29 triple-doubles in the regular season. Some suggested Jokic is this generation’s Steve Nash, a generational team-first passer who had gaudy statistics but wasn’t the best player of his era nor able to win a championship.
Jokic often shut down MVP questions by saying he didn’t care about winning the award and only wanted to lead his team to a championship. But after Jokic collected his 100th career triple-double at the Houston Rockets on Feb. 28, the center admitted he had heard some of the criticism about why he didn’t deserve to win MVP again.
“When you’re stat-padding it’s easy, you know,” Jokic said when asked about the triple-double milestone.
When asked if he had heard that he was being called a stat-padder, Jokic cracked, “Yes, of course. It’s true.”
Race even was brought up by some as an excuse as to why Embiid wasn’t selected as MVP prior to winning it for the first time this season. (Jokic finished second in this year’s voting.)
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone couldn’t stand idly by and not defend Jokic.
After Jokic led the Nuggets to their sweep over the Lakers, Malone was asked what Jokic was showing so far in his tear through the postseason.
“I think he’s showing other people nationally that he’s real,”
“Like what he’s doing is real. The MVPs are real. The triple-doubles are real. The silly narratives this year are just silly and somewhat ignorant. I think Nikola has gone through three rounds now where he’s averaging a triple-double in the playoffs.
“Have you seen any stat-padding out there? I’m serious. Enough of the silliness. The guy is a great player. Give him his damn respect. Stop chopping him down at the knees.”Malone said last month.
For Jokic, Finals MVP is just the latest hardware he’s earned for his scintillating play. But it just happens to come with winning the hardware he truly wanted — the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Jokic has always made it clear that he is about the team and winning over any individual accolades.
Teammate Jamal Murray believes Jokic is only going to get better. Opposing defenses tried throwing everything at Jokic with little success.
“He’s been doing that for so long at all levels,”
“He won his first MVP, and his numbers were better [during] the second MVP. And his numbers are better now.
“I think there’s more to come, actually, from Jok. We haven’t seen a side of Jok that we are going to see where he can be just pure dominance all the way, the whole game, even more than he has been.”Murray said.