Om YoungmisukESPN staff writer2 minute reading
DENVER — Michael Malone interrupted a question about Nikola Jokic passing Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles by a center in NBA playoff history.
“Again?” the Denver Nuggets coach asked with Facebook. “Making it a habit. To be stat-padding.”
Malone’s sarcastic response was aimed at Jokic’s detractors. The two-time MVP, however, doesn’t care about the critics or the stats. He only cares about wins and he keeps his team one win away from returning to the Western Conference Finals.
Jokic had 29 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists and two blocks to lead Denver to a 118-102 Game 5 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night at Ball Arena.
The Nuggets now lead the series 3-2 and can eliminate the Suns in Game 6 on Thursday in Phoenix.
Jokic capped the Suns’ season with his 10th career playoff triple-double, breaking a tie with Chamberlain (nine) and tied for fifth-most with Draymond Green, Rajon Rondo, Larry Bird and Jason Kidd. Research by ESPN Stats and Info.
It was his second triple-double in the last three games, and it came after a 53-point outburst in Game 4.
“I mean, to be honest, I want to win the game,” Jokic said, when asked if he’d rather beat a team with a triple-double or scoring. “So whatever, I open the game today and I think really bad, maybe I forced it.
“Then I slow it down, relax, let the game come to me. It comes to me, it happens.”
Jokic shot 2-for-6 in the first quarter, but had five points, five rebounds and four assists in his first 12 minutes. The Nuggets leaned on Michael Porter Jr., who scored 14 of his 19 in the first quarter to help Denver open a 15-point lead.
In the third quarter, Jokic dominated, making 7 of 8 shots and scoring 17 points. He drew a technical foul from Kevin Durant when he tried to listen to a Suns huddle near half court. Durant flicked Jokic with his left forearm and the two-time MVP cut off, drawing a technical foul.
Jokic, who was fined $25,000 on Monday for coming into contact with Phoenix owner Matt Ishbia during a freak sideline collision in Game 4, was doing his best to give his team an advantage.
While Devin Booker has been talked about as the best player in the series, Malone said his center has also been dominant.
“He’s a guy who studies the game and gets what the game has to offer,” Malone said. “In this series, everybody’s talking about Devin Booker, rightfully so. His first round against the Clippers, his games against us were fantastic. But I think we can take Nikola for granted sometimes. What he does is unbelievable.
“He makes everyone around him better. Never whines. ‘Cool hand Luke.’ We are very grateful that he is a Denver Nugget.”