By Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nikola Jokic did a little bit of everything to help the Denver Nuggets beat the Indiana Pacers.
Jokic had 31 points, 17 rebounds and a big 3-pointer to turn back a late Indiana rally, and Denver won 125-117 on Friday night.
“I just want to do whatever I can to win the game,” said the 22-year-old Serbian center. “If that’s rebounds, setting screens, assists, scoring, whatever. I just take what the game gives me, and that’s it.”
Wilson Chandler scored 12 of his 24 points in the opening quarter, and Danilo Gallinari added 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Nuggets.
Jokic had 21 points and 12 rebounds by halftime, helping Denver open an 11-point lead, but Indiana staged a furious rally in the final minutes to trim a 23-point deficit to five before Jokic’s 3-pointer with 1:28 remaining.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said his team has thrived offensively by playing more through Jokic in the post.
“It’s almost like you want to see what he does next,” Malone said. “The guy is just a treat to watch, fun to play with and the scary thing is he’s only going to get better. He’s made a name for himself and for him to be playing at such a high level is a credit to him and his work ethic.”
Pacers coach Nate McMillan considers Jokic one of the league’s best passers at the center position.
“His basketball IQ seems to be just off the chart,” McMillan said. “We’ve compared him to Bill Walton back in the day. They are doing a good job playing off that.”
All-Star forward Paul George scored 27 points for Indiana, while Jeff Teague had 21 and Myles Turner added 20.
The Pacers outscored the Nuggets 42-31 in the final quarter, which prompted McMillan to lament how his team didn’t start the way it finished.
“You have to start the game with that aggressive play that we played with in the fourth quarter,” McMillan said.
Denver made 40 of 43 free throws, compared to Indiana’s eight of 11.
“Every game is a playoff game for us,” Malone said. “We’re trying to get into the playoffs, which means that every night we step on the floor is a playoff game.”
The Nuggets (35-37) have won nine of 13 against the Pacers (36-36) in Indiana and have a 20-4 edge in the series since 2004-05. That includes a season sweep this season. Denver routed Indiana 140-112 on Jan. 12 in London.