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Nikola Jokic Went to England and Played Like Giannis

Our daily look at the NBA’s best players of the night sees Denver drop 140 in London, and their young star blossom into the team’s offensive engine

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.

Prime Minister of the Court: Nikola Jokic

The current conversion rate for English pounds is 82 pence on the dollar, and the current conversion rate for English NBA points is … look, THE NUGGETS SCORED 140.

London hosted Denver, which was riding a five-game losing streak, and the Pacers, who were on a five-game winning streak, for the NBA’s first Global Games showing on Thursday. Danilo Gallinari wore socks that had the British flag on them, told the crowd what an honor it was to be playing in front of them, and then dropped four 3-pointers to show his appreciation in the 140–112 Denver win.

Indiana, which has never traveled outside North America for a regular-season game (and played like it), practiced twice in the time between touching down and suiting up, but looked jetlagged on both ends of the court, struggling on defense (again, they gave up 140 points) and rushing contested shots on offense. Denver was like that other type of traveler that you see in the airport: sleek, well dressed despite 12 uncomfortable hours on a flight (this is where I remind you that Gallinari used to be an Armani model), leaving the plane fresh-faced and with inexplicable energy.

Nikola Jokic was the Prime Minister of the Court — let’s be hierarchically correct about who’s calling the shots here. Like his line of 22 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, a block, and a steal suggests, Jokic’s presence was felt everywhere. He led the charge scoring in the paint — the Nuggets finished with 70 points there; the Pacers, 48 — but it was his work from the perimeter that was most impressive, even occasionally wandering into point-center waters.

Helming the team is something the center’s been comfortable doing all season. His skill set allows him to be a versatile scorer, and his knack for gorgeous assists and ability to bring the ball up the court make you forget what position he plays in the first place. The second-year player finished shooting 58.3 percent from the field, sinking two of three attempts behind the arc, and going 100 percent from the field as a hypeman.

His perimeter presence and seven assists defibrillated the ball sharing. Denver finished with 37 assists total; six players finished in double figures, five ended the game with a plus-minus of 22 and over, and the team had a 69.2 true shooting percentage, marking only the 13th time a team has shot that well all season. It’s not that Indiana didn’t try to keep up — Paul George was unloading quick shots, but Denver crashed the glass on his misses, and as he went 2-of-12, there were quite a few of those. The Nuggets outrebounded on the defensive glass 35–22, depleting one of Indiana’s strengths from its five-game win streak. Myles Turner, who averaged 9.4 rebounds over that time, finished Thursday with a team high of six.

PSA to any teams on a losing streak: Go backpacking in Europe, travel a bit, and find yourself.