It was early in the first quarter. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic ran across the baseline coming off a pair of screens, like a guard. This year’s MVP favorite, Joel Embiid, chased Jokic around both screens, eventually picking Jokic’s pocket, like a guard.
The big man revolution is here.
Both Embiid and Jokic delivered MVP-caliber performances in the Nuggets’ 114-110 win over the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center Monday night. Embiid finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. Jokic had 22 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, and two blocks.
For all the endless debates over who should win this year’s MVP or who’s better, one thing seemed clear — these are two of the best players on the planet right now. Maybe instead of arguing over them, we should all enjoy watching them.
“He’s a great player, great,” Jokic said ahead of the matchup, per The Denver Post. “Like, for real, great, great player. He can do everything on the floor, who is controlling the game, who is in conversation for MVP and the best player in the league. He’s so dominant. He’s skilled, but he’s so big and strong that he uses that. He’s really tough coverage for every single team in the NBA. … I like to play with the best in the league and the best in the business, but there’s nothing going to be nothing special for me.”
Embiid has reiterated all season that he enjoys watching Jokic and appreciates how great he is. Like Jokic, he relishes the opportunity to compete with elite talent but didn’t look at it as more than just a regular-season game.
“Obviously he’s a monster, he’s a great player, and I love competition,” Embiid said postgame. “I love playing against the best and I’m always happy that he’s another big man. He’s a monster and I love watching him. But it’s also easy to study him. He plays against other guys, so I know his tendencies, I know what he wanted to do. Unfortunately, I was in foul trouble today and not able to be as aggressive as I wanted. But he’s a great player. I love his game, I love watching him, and I’m even more proud that he’s a big man.”
During the All-Star break, Jokic told reporters on hand that he’d be happy as long as a big man wins MVP. Embiid expressed a similar sentiment last week and went a step further, saying he’s also thrilled to see so many international players — including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic — taking over the league.
So, no, this isn’t Michael Jordan making things up about his opponents for extra motivation. There didn’t seem to be any trash talk or venom on the floor. These two have all the motivation they need trying to carry two franchises starving for a title.
“We lost. Thats what I care about; I care about the wins,” Embiid said. “It’s up to you guys to have this conversation to decide who’s the best or who had the best game and all that stuff. I don’t really care about that. I just want to win. Obviously we’re thinking about championships and at this point, we’ve got to be better. And as far as individual awards, he’s (won) MVP and he’s been a monster all season. You guys can also build a case for me, but that’s not my focus. I’m focused on how we can get better every single day, and we’ve got a lot to work on.”
As someone who is a part of “you guys,” I’ll refrain — at least for one night — from entering the discourse. It was a joy to watch true greatness take the court Monday night. Watching two seven-footers with so much skill compete against each other ... it was as good as it gets.
The last two seasons, where both players have truly entered their primes, they’ve averaged at least 26 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Only 21 players in NBA history have accomplished that feat over a single season. Only 12 have done it over the course of two. Only six players have done it for more seasons than Embiid and Jokic.
So, if you want to argue with weirdos on Twitter (it’s OK if you are one of those weirdos!) about which guy should win MVP, have at it.
I’ll just remember witnessing a matchup between two players, in their primes, that could go down as two of the greatest big men in NBA history — and maybe two of the flat-out greatest players ever.