DENVER — Nikola Jokic played like an MVP.
But the Nets played like a team.
Make that a winning one.
In their biggest statement victory since breaking and remolding their roster, Brooklyn pulled out a come-from-behind 122-120 over the Nuggets, stunning the Western Conference-leaders and their sellout crowd of 19,739 at Ball Arena.
Jokic was dominant, but when Brooklyn forced him to miss a tough contested 15-foot fadeaway with 3.9 seconds left up 121-120, they could exhale.
Mikal Bridges — who led seven Nets in double-figures with 25 — made one of two free throws on the other end, and Jokic missed a potential 3 at the buzzer.
The Nets (39-29) have won five of their last six, the “one” being a tough loss at league-leading Milwaukee when they rested most of their starting lineup.
“Lots of commas,” Jacque Vaughn said. “So our group is learning how to play together, comma. We’re learning how to initiate and be dictators on the defensive end of the floor, comma. We’re learning how to play with pace and spray the ball around and we know we can shoot 3s, comma.
“So we’re gonna continue in this sentence to create commas for this group, which is a great place to be in because we’re growing, learning each other, we’re going to save the periods for later on with this group.”
Jokic had 35 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists in a dominant triple-double for Denver (46-21).
But the Nets put seven in double figures, led by Bridges and Nic Claxton’s 20.
They overcame the West leaders, the MVP, a double-digit deficit and the mile-high altitude.
“For me I love when things aren’t comfortable and this is a great challenge for us. Play a high-level team, early game on the road,” said Vaughn. “Are you going to complete the task or are you going to complain? So I’m big on I think complaining kills culture and we’re trying to build a culture and grow together as a group so today kind of find your way, show up, make your mark and don’t complain.”
They didn’t complain.
They just met the challenge and made their mark.
Akin to how they played the second half against Rudy Gobert on Friday, the Nets opened with moving Claxton off Jokic and onto Aaron Gordon, letting Dorian Finney-Smith front and fight with the bruising 6-foot-11, 284 pound Serb.
Claxton and Spencer Dinwiddie (16 assists) ran the lob game well off the latter’s dribble penetration, getting Jokic several times.
The Nets were down just 33-32 after former Net Jeff Green found Jamal Murray for a 3-pointer.
That’s when they mounted a 17-6 run.
Seth Curry drilled a step-back 3-pointer to give the Nets a 49-39 edge with 7:23 left in the second.
It was still 53-45 with 5:49 remaining in the second quarter after Dinwiddie fed Claxton for a turnaround hook.
But that’s when Jokic grabbed the game and took over.
Denver closed the half on an extended 24-8 run, shooting 9 of 12.
And most of that was Jokic, who had eight points and three rebounds on 4 of 5 from the floor.
Jokic’s dunk sparked the run, and a Murray 34-footer to beat the buzzer left Brooklyn down 69-61 heading into the locker room.
But the visitors didn’t stay down.
The Nets stormed out of the break with a brilliant third quarter for the second straight game.
After outscoring the Timberwolves 37-20 on Friday night, they blitzed the Nuggets 37-18 in this one.
And they did it with Jokic playing every single second of the period, harassing him at every turn and daring others like Murray to shoot.
The gambit paid off.
Trailing 77-71 after a Jokic free throw with 8:59 left in the third, Brooklyn went on a 15-3 run.
Bridges drew a foul on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who got hit with a technical for his protestations.
Bridges sank all three free throws for an 86-80 edge with 4:27 left, which swelled to 98-87 to end the period.
The Nets’ padded that cushion to 15, after Claxton kicked out to Joe Harris for a 3-pointer and 109-94 lead with 8:11 to play.
Jokic cut it to six, and — after former Net Bruce Brown’s 3-pointer sliced it to 116-113 — Jokic pulled Denver within one with 2:46 in regulation.
But Dinwiddie’s 17-footer stemmed the tide.
Then he found Finney-Smith for a 3-pointer and 121-117 lead with 1:43 to play.
Jokic hit two free throws 11 seconds later, and after Finney-Smith had a layup blocked, Denver had a chance to tie.
But Jokic made just one of two at the stripe, leaving Brooklyn with the lead and the ball with a half-minute remaining.
Dinwiddie penetrated and drew a foul on the MVP with 23.2n seconds left.
But the Nuggets challenged and the call was overturned to an offensive foul.
But the Nets held on.