We Can Pod It Out 126: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
For Miami, the only winning move is not to play (double-team defense on Nikola Jokić)
Watching Nikola Jokić dominate Game 1 of the NBA Finals the other night sparked the following thought on Twitter:
miami doesn't have any way to handle jokic, and doubling him only opens up options for him to make easy passes... i think their only hope is to make him take more shots, and then bury ton of threes at the other end. maybe that gets them a game.
Well, they got themselves a game. Changing their defensive approach, the Heat stopped trying to silence Jokić as a scorer, instead clamping down on the passing game that makes him so special. The two-time MVP scored 41 points with 11 rebounds, but only had four assists, and attempted 28 of Denver’s 75 shots. That’s six and a half fewer assists than Jokić had been averaging in the playoffs, and seven and a half more shot attempts.
And, indeed, the Heat buried 17 three-pointers, on only 35 attempts, to steal the game they so desperately needed to steal on the road, 111-108.
It might be counterintuitive, but the Nuggets are now 4-4 in the playoffs when Jokić scores 30 or more points, and 9-0 when he doesn’t. During the regular season, they were 16-5 in Jokić’s 30-point games, and 32-16 when he scored less.
For assists, the Nuggets are 8-2 in the playoffs when Jokić is in double figures, compared to 5-2 when he has fewer than 10. In the regular season? Denver was 34-4 when the best-passing big man alive had 10-plus assists, but only 17-14 when he didn’t get there.
Not to mention, Jokić had five turnovers in Game 2, marking only the third time all season that he had more turnovers than assists in the game, the other occasions being a 21-point loss to the Rockets and an 11-point loss to the Magic.
And when it comes to getting him to shoot more, Jokić’s season high was 26 attempts in a game. When he’s met or exceeded that in the playoffs, the Nuggets are now 2-3.
It’s very odd to need a team’s best player to shoot less, but that is what the Nuggets need because Jokić’s passing is what sets him, and them, apart. How Denver adjusts to Miami’s adjustments will tell the story of whether this year’s NBA Finals turn into something special, or if I was right that letting Jokić go off as a scorer would simply be the Heat’s route to avoiding a sweep.