“He is the soul of the team.” —The Denver Post

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Aaron Gordon called it the best dunk in the game he ever had.

Jamal Murray named it the “dive of the year”.

Outside of Gordon, Nikola Jokic had the best vantage point for the thunderous soul-snatching jam over Landry Shamet Sunday night against Phoenix.

“I was open,” joked Jokic.

At 124-123 with 24 seconds left, Gordon cornered his 12th rebound of the night and gained momentum on the opposite side of the court. As Gordon leaned towards the basket, he saw the two against one coming. A bounced pass to Jokic would have sufficed, helping offset his triple-double of 41 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists. But Gordon, a more experienced player now than ever, continued to charge.

“You have to play that little game of cat and mouse,” said Gordon.

As Gordon read the defender, he committed to his release regardless of body risk.

“‘Fine, I’m just going to take off,'” he said.

What he left in his wake was Shamet, who fell to the ground, and a shell-shocked Suns team that couldn’t compete with Gordon’s raw athleticism. The soaring dunk, Gordon’s seventh of the night, elicited a roar from the Ball Arena that rivaled the decibels of a playoff game.

“The roof just fell off,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26: Aaron Gordon (50) of the Denver Nuggets hammers a mean, vicious dunk to the head of Landry Shamet (14) of the Phoenix Suns during overtime of Denver's 128-125 victory at Ball Arena in Denver on Sunday, December 25, 2022. The dunk was initially ruled a foul, but was overruled and counted as two and a fifth personal foul on Shamet.  (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Aaron Gordon (50) of the Denver Nuggets hits a fierce dunk over Landry Shamet (14) of the Phoenix Suns during overtime of Denver’s 128-125 victory at the Ball Arena in Denver on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022. The dunk was initially considered a foul, but it was overruled and counted as two and a fifth personal foul on Shamet. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

When the whistle blew, claiming an indictment, Gordon knew he couldn’t take it. He said he felt how Shamet’s body held him back and knew a review would yield an e-1. Murray’s mind went back to his relentless dunk of DJ Wilson, who had been fouled several seasons ago.

“It wasn’t like I was walking right past him,” Gordon said. “I was going back and forth.”

Rarely at a loss for words, Malone didn’t know how to describe the effect he had on his team.

“Damn,” he said. “I’m glad they revised this.”

It was the high point of a performance full of them. That dunk, which helped seal a thrilling 128-125 overtime victory over the Suns, overshadowed an earlier alley-oop where Gordon rose as if he were back in dunk competition fighting the laws of gravity. In some photos captured of the moment, he almost was. And that’s to say nothing of either of his two reverse alley-oop submissions.

After last year’s first-round playoff exit to Golden State, Gordon made a public commitment to refocus and increase his basketball IQ. According to Jokic, arguably the smartest player in the NBA right now, he has.

“He’s slowing down, to be honest,” Jokic said. “On the beam, even when he needs to bully, he does it a little slower. I like much more. You can see, post high, post low, he’s reading the defense. Even when he’s ducking, he’s reading where the pass might come from.”

Gordon ended the night with 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. His defense was tenacious and physical, his offense was imposing and overwhelming. On a night when Jokic authorized another 40-point triple-double and Murray turned into a fourth-quarter flamethrower, Gordon’s aerial acrobatics remained the indelible moment. The three combined for Denver’s fourth consecutive victory and seventh in the team’s last eight games.

As strange as that dunk was, no sequence showcased his contributions better than a vital block on DeAndre Ayton, followed by a sprinting play to keep the ball from going out of bounds, which yielded a timely reverse layup with 3:30 remaining. in overtime. At every level of the game, Gordon was present.

It was a comprehensive display that summed up why Malone had pitched his name earlier this week as a potential All-Star.

“He’s the lifeblood of this team, if that makes any sense,” said Jokic, the reigning two-time MVP. There was nothing, Jokic said, that Gordon couldn’t do on the ground.

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