INDIANAPOLIS – Nikola Jokic spent the first three quarters watching his teammates do the dirty work.
When he finally returned early in the fourth, the two-time NBA MVP cleaned up.
Limited by foul trouble, Jokic scored 24 points in 21 minutes and helped the Denver Nuggets overcome an 18-point deficit in the second half to rally past the Indiana Pacers 122-199 on Wednesday night.
“We did enough on defense,” guard Jamal Murray said after scoring 18 points. “I think they got a lot of fast-break points in the first half. We limited that in the second half and just contested every shot and we were able to get going on offense, too.”
The biggest obstacle for Denver was Jokic’s foul trouble.
He picked up four fouls in less than 18 minutes and was whistled for No. 5 just 58 seconds into the second half. He spent the next 13 minutes on the bench as the Nuggets’ 3-point shooters finally started fighting back from an 87-69 deficit.
They cut it to 95-89 after three quarters and Jokic took care of the rest when he returned. Aaron Gordon had 18 points and tied his career high with 17 rebounds.
Indiana had a chance to force overtime at the buzzer but Myles Turner’s 3 was off the mark.
Rookie Bennedict Mathurin led the Pacers with 30 points. Tyrese Haliburton had 21 points and 11 assists.
“He’s doing things now that no center really has ever done,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Jokic. “He gets his joy from passing the ball and he’s certainly an elite scorer.”
Jokic’s teammates got Denver within 103-98 when he re-entered and after Michael Porter Jr.’s 3-pointer made it a one-point game, Jokic hit back-to-back short jumpers to finally give the Nuggets a 108-105 lead.
Indiana tied the score at 117 on Haliburton’s long 2-pointer with 55.2 seconds to go, but Jokic broke the tie with a 20-footer on the ensuing possession to help put it away and snap Indiana’s two-game winning streak.
CELTICS 128, PISTONS 112: In Boston, Jayson Tatum had 31 points and five assists, and Boston beat Detroit to earn its fourth straight victory.
Jaylen Brown had 30 points and seven rebounds. Sam Hauser added a career-high 24 points off the bench for Boston.
Former Purdue star and rookie Jaden Ivey had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Detroit.
PELICANS 115, BULLS 111: In Chicago, Brandon Ingram scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, including seven straight late in the fourth quarter, to give New Orleans a victory over Chicago.
DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 33 points, and Zach Levine added 23.
Zion Williamson scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half for New Orleans.