Despite being visibly hurt following his team’s bitter elimination by the Denver Nuggets that marked a first-round playoff exit for second straight season, Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard didn’t hesitate to absolutely laud Nikola Jokic and give him his endorsement for 2021 NBA MVP once more.
“Throughout the season, I go home and watch every game possible. I’ve flip back and forth 3-4 games at once. I’ve seen a lot of them, obviously being in the same division. And I think he is the MVP. He’s played every game. He does everything for their team. And I think we got a front row seat to that,” Lillard said when asked about Jokic.
The last screening of the “Jokic VS Blazers” movie saga was material of immense fun for Nuggets fans or Serbian people who are naturally rooting for their basketball representative and other Joker enthusiasts. But it was far from an enjoyable experience for Lillard, his teammates and most folks in Moda Center.
After a slow start due to foul trouble and a minor impact in the first half, Jokic put on his “MVP cape” and began dominating and influencing the offense in every manner imaginable to drop 20 points in the third period while leading the Nuggets through a comeback from down 14 and, ultimately, the win.
He finished with 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Lillard hailed the massive and diverse effect that Jokic has on the Nuggets, something the three-time All-Star also displayed plenty against Portland.
“He’s making threes, he’s scoring at the block, he’s going at the nail, the free-throw line. He’s making other guys better. Like I said, he’s everything for them,” Lillard said.
This wasn’t the first time that Lillard sang praises of Jokic. Now, he explained why the MVP candidate may also lead the Nuggets to a championship title this year.
“I think if there was any year where a guy like him and what he does for that team could lead the team to a championship, it will be this year. Because of how open it is. There’s no favorite, in my eyes at least I feel like anybody can get beaten and anybody can go get it done,” Lillard said.
Lillard poured his heart and soul on the court during those six games against the Nuggets. He set new NBA records, put on unreal shooting spectacles, produced showtime material of the highest order and created memories of sheer basketball beauty.
Yet the outcome of the series left him not only unhappy with the result but also frustrated with missing out on what he considers to be a unique opportunity of a season to gun for the title.
“And that’s why it’s even more disappointing for me,” Lillard said. “Because I felt like if any year you can shoulder the load and go get one, it’s this one.”
“So I definitely think he’s [Jokic] capable of it,” he added.
Lillard’s ambitions won’t be fulfilled this year but the Nuggets are still dreaming big. Denver coach Mike Malone was pleased with the team effort that led to the qualification to the Western Conference semifinals and set the bar much higher than just winning a round.
“I just told the team this: Coming here and winning Game 6 is great. But we are not satisfied,” Malone said. “Our goal coming into the season was not just to get out of the first round. we have much bigger goals, we’re going to enjoy it for a moment and then we’re going to be back to work and see who we’re playing in the next round.”
“His [Mike Malone] message was pretty much: We ain’t done nothing yet,” Michael Porter Jr. said when asked what was the coach’s message to him and his teammates after the victory. “That was a very hard-fought series but that wasn’t our goal, to come out of the first round. This isn’t what we’re here for, this isn’t the end goal, so let’s get ready for the next series.
Porter was electric in the beginning of the game with 22 points on 6-6 3-pointers in the first quarter and all of his 26 points in the first half, keeping the Nuggets in hot pursuit of the leading Blazers while Jokic was forced spend some time at bench with two early fouls.
Jokic absolutely took over after the break by being his usual heavyweight towering presence of skyscraping proportions. He was the star once more, but only cared to talk about what his teammates did in the match and say almost nothing about himself.
“I think we actually stayed as a group, and then in the fourth quarter it was a tight game,” Jokic said. “When Monte [Morris] made a layup or a three to get us the lead, that was maybe a big moment. Actually I think Austin Rivers made a three from the left side of the court, I think that was a big three. I think JaMychal Green played extremely well, he maybe didn’t score a lot but I thought his presence was really good for us. Monte was really good for us, he made big shots, he played really mature basketball. made a big corner three, Mike [Michael Porter Jr.] carried us in the first quarter, so I think it was a team effort.”