Nikola Jokic’s career-high, 50-point night ruined by clutch play from Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton

One week after tying his career-high with 47 points in a win against the Utah Jazz, Nikola Jokic showed up on Saturday and one-upped himself by registering his first 50-point game in a stunning individual effort. He tried to put the Denver Nuggets on his back, and finished with a ridiculous line of 50 points (20 of 33 FG), eight rebounds and 12 assists.

Only this time it ended up coming in defeat, as the Sacramento Kings held on for the 119-114 win — their third over the Nuggets this season and sixth in their last seven outings overall — to improve to 11-11. They did so in large part because of some clutch play from their star rookie, Tyrese Haliburton, who continues to prove that he’s one of the best players in this class. 

Haliburton scored 12 of his career-high 23 points in the fourth quarter and added four rebounds, six assists and two steals in another strong all-around game. In the process he became the first Kings rookie since Tyreke Evans to put up 20 points and five assists in a game while shooting at least 65 percent. That’s a bit of an obscure stat, but it does show that what he’s doing is rare. 

At two different junctures late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, a bucket from Jokic got the Nuggets to within six points, only for Haliburton to come down on the other end and bury a triple. The most notable came with less than a minute to play, as he utilized a high pick-and-roll with Richaun Holmes and walked into a 3 to pretty much seal the game. 

“Ty is a big part of [the Kings’ closing lineup],” Holmes said. “He just brings unbelievable IQ to the game, he has a great feel and he’s not afraid of the moment. We need him on the court and he shows up for us every time.”

By now, Haliburton’s journey to the Kings has been well documented, and so, too, has the way he’s played to start the season. And as he crosses the 20-game threshold of his young career, we’re nearing the point where it’s no longer fair to say this is the product a hot start or a small sample size. Haliburton is just really good.

What’s most impressive is the consistency with which he’s putting in top performances — he’s scored in double figures in all but five games and had at least five assists in all but seven — and the way he’s already earned the trust of his coaches and teammates. As Holmes noted, Haliburton has cemented himself as a member of the Kings’ closing five. 

You saw why against the Nuggets, when he came up with big shots time and again, and the stats help tell a remarkable story. In fourth quarters alone this season, Haliburton is averaging 5.1 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7 percent from the field and 62.7 percent from 3-point range. Oh, and in 192 fourth-quarter minutes, he’s only turned the ball over seven times. 

A few days ago, Haliburton was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December/January, and with the way he’s playing there’s sure to be more of those honors coming his way. If he keeps it up all season, he just might be in line to take home the big Rookie of the Year trophy as well. 


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