NBA

Jokic honoured Milojevic legacy in Boston win, says Malone

By Sports Desk January 20, 2024

Nikola Jokic honoured the memory of his former mentor Dejan Milojevic by starring in the Denver Nuggets' crucial road win over the Boston Celtics on Friday, says coach Michael Malone.

Golden State Warriors assistant coach Milojevic died at the age of 46 on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack, prompting an outpouring of emotion across the NBA.

Before his arrival in San Francisco, Milojevic was credited with kickstarting the career of two-time NBA MVP Jokic when the duo worked together at Belgrade-based team KK Mega Basket.

On Friday, Denver had the daunting task of attempting to halt Boston's 20-0 run at TD Garden this season, and Jokic's 34 points helped them on their way to a huge win over a fellow championship contender.  

Jokic also added 12 rebounds and nine assists while Jamal Murray finished with 35 points as the defending champions improved to 29-14.

Speaking after the game, Nuggets coach Malone expressed pride in Jokic and said the events of recent days made his dominant performance all the more impressive.

"As I mentioned to our team after the game, I couldn't be more proud of Nikola for playing the way he played with the tragic passing of Deki," Malone said. 

"That's what you do, though. That's why I'm proud of Nikola. You just lost somebody that you love and you care about that meant a lot to you, that was a mentor and a coach to you.

"So go honour him. You know what I mean? Nikola went out there, he honoured Deki's memory and his legacy by playing at the level he played at.

"It's not easy to do with a heavy heart, but Nikola is a special person, obviously. It was incredible to watch him play with that heavy heart, when you consider who we were playing and you add everything else to the mix.

"That's why Nikola is the best player in the world."

The Celtics found themselves 98-95 up with just under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but they missed eight of their final nine shots – four of them from Jayson Tatum – to allow the Nuggets back in.

Malone feels the victory amounted to a statement from his team, saying: "You're playing against the best team in the NBA. It was like a playoff game. 

"I know this is only Game 43, 44, whatever it is, but it was kind of like a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere and two really good teams. 

"They were in the Finals two years ago. They were in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. They have high hopes, as do we.

"It was a game that we were all in. We put all of our chips in and we were lucky enough to get the outcome that we desired."

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