Nikola Jokic was on pace for a 50-point triple-double. With two minutes left in the first half on Tuesday against the Utah Jazz, he’d already racked up 24 points, six rebounds and six assists. He was getting whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted.
With 1:54 on the clock in the second quarter, Rudy Gobert went to the basket and knocked knees with Jokic. The Denver Nuggets center immediately went to the ground and grabbed his right knee, writhing in pain.
It’s the kind of scene that makes the NBA world stop. No one wants to see anyone suffer an injury and whether or not anyone wants to admit it, it’s particularly scary when the reigning MVP is one on the floor grimacing and talking to team trainers.
Eventually Jokic was helped to his feet and limped to the locker room. The Nuggets announced that he’d been diagnosed with a right knee contusion and that he was questionable to return to the game. Immediately a sigh of relief that a bone bruise seems to be the extent of the injury.
Jokic came back out onto the court and went through a few shots and resistance drills with trainers before having a short conversation with Denver head coach Michael Malone. Since the Nuggets were on the second game of a back-to-back set, and his knee was hurting, there was no reason to put him back out on the court. Not this early in the season.
With Jokic sidelined, the way that Utah was guarding the Nuggets changed dramatically.
“First of all, it sounds like he’s ok and I hope that is the case. It’s always scary,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s obviously a central part of the game plan and that changes.”
A steady diet of Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside had been planned for Jokic. Meanwhile Snyder was throwing everyone he could at Aaron Gordon who had easily racked up 15 of his own points in the first half. Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale and Eric Paschall all had their chances at Gordon.
Then, when Jokic didn’t come back in the second half, the Jazz were able to move Gobert and Whiteside.
“Aaron really hurt us in the first half,” Snyder said. “He’s going to make some tough shots, with his size he can shoot over. But, we let him drive by us, we weren’t alert on the weak side, we didn’t contest his shots. It was too easy. With one of those bigger guys on him, it’s harder for him to use his strength and over power.”
Gordon scored just five points through the rest of the game and the Jazz let their defense dictate the offense rather than the other way around.
Though a wrench was thrown into the game plan, the Jazz adjusted nicely, winning 122-110, to stay undefeated on the season.