NBA Finals: Nuggets are now 0-3 in playoffs when Nikola Jokić scores 40-plus points

For the third time this postseason, Nikola Jokić broke the 40-point barrier.

For the third time in those games, the Denver Nuggets lost.

Jokić filled up the box score again in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, posting 41 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 16-of-28 from the field. But it wasn't enough to fend off a Heat victory as Miami rallied from an 8-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 111-108 win to tie the series at 1-1.

Should the Nuggets really be worried that Jokić scores too much?

He scored 43 points in the first round against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs. Denver lost that game in overtime, 114-108. It was their only loss in the series. He dropped 53 points against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Suns won that game, 129-124.

The Nuggets' 0-3 record when Jokić scores 40-plus points tied the NBA record for such a scenario in one postseason with Jerry West (1965), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1977), LeBron James (2009) and Luka Dončić (2022), per Statitudes.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, are 12-1 this postseason when Jokić scores fewer than 40 points, with their only loss in that instance in Game 3 against the Suns. There's clearly a correlation here. But is there causation? That's a harder question to answer.

It it really possible for Nikola Jokić to score too much? (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Is it really possible for Nikola Jokić to score too much? (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post) (AAron Ontiveroz via Getty Images)

There's another commonality from Jokić's stat line in two of Denver's four losses this postseason. His assist total of 4 on Sunday was his lowest of the postseason. His 6-assist tally in the Game 4 loss to Minnesota was previously tied for the second-lowest output of the postseason.

The Nuggets' offense is at its best when it runs through Jokić, whose vision and passing from the center position is unprecedented in NBA history. He's dropped double-digit assists in eight of Denver's postseason games, six of which they won. Is there something for opposing defenses in attempting to limit Jokić as a passer with the compromise of allowing him more scoring opportunities?

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's not buying it. He dismissed ESPN's Ramona Shelburne when she asked if turning Jokić "into a scorer" instead of a passer was a viable strategy.

"That's ridiculous," Spoelstra said. "That's the untrained eye that says something like that. This guy's an incredible player. Twice in two seasons, he's been the best player on this planet. You can't just say, 'Oh, make him a scorer.'

"That's not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised. We have to focus on what we do. We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect."

Jokić, meanwhile, declined to address his relatively low assist total in his postgame news conference.

"I don't know," Jokić said. "I don't think about the assists or whatever. ... I was just playing — I don't think that I'm playing about the stats or whatever."

For the Nuggets, actively limiting Jokić in any aspect of the game is an absurd concept. He's firmly established himself as the best player in this postseason and arguably in all of basketball. And this is too small of a sample to draw any long-term conclusions.

But the eye test shows that the Nuggets are better off when Jokić's setting up the offense, even as Jamal Murray has established himself as a high-level playmaker in his own right. The Nuggets want more of Game 1 Jokić that saw him dish out 6 assists as they opened up a 29-20 lead in the first quarter. Look for them to run their offense through Jokić in Wednesday's Game 3 as much as they can — and for the Heat to try their best to mitigate those efforts.