Nikola Jokic’s basketball brilliance, explained in one incredible pass

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was the talk of NBA Twitter on Tuesday night, even after his team lost in a 147-140 double-overtime thriller to the Nuggets. Lillard erupted for 55 points against Denver and set a new NBA playoff record for most 3-pointers in a game (12 of 17 from beyond the arc).

While Lillard certainly deserved all of the praise that came his way, it shouldn’t be forgotten that presumptive MVP Nikola Jokic emerged victorious after posting a ho-hum line of 38 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, four blocks and one steal in 46 minutes. Much like Lillard, Jokic provided plenty of highlights throughout the evening, but one stood above the rest.

With less than two minutes to go in the second overtime period and the score tied at 140, Jokic threw one of the most beautiful passes of the 2020-21 season to Michael Porter Jr., who drilled a clutch 3-pointer from the left corner.

OK, let’s break this play down because it’s a great example of Jokic’s basketball genius.

First, Jokic recognizes Portland isn’t going to allow him to work one-on-one in the post against Enes Kanter. Trail Blazers forward Norman Powell comes over for the double-team, leaving CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard and Robert Covington zoned up against the other four Nuggets players.

Jokic doesn’t have great options and is running out of time — the shot clock is down to five seconds — so he throws his hand up almost as if to say, “Hey, can one of you guys move for me, please?”

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Denver forward Aaron Gordon finally takes the hint, darting from the 3-point line into the paint. Gordon’s cut forces Covington to hold for a split second, and Jokic knows he has an opening.

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But here’s the thing: Jokic still has to make this pass over a defender in pretty good position, and he has to put it in a spot that allows Porter to quickly catch and shoot. If the pass is off target, there is a chance Porter goes out of bounds or can’t launch before the shot clock expires.

Oh, no problem. Jokic just lofts the ball right over Covington’s outstretched arm and into Porter’s shooting pocket.

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And then Porter takes it from there.

No wonder Doc Rivers called Jokic the “best passing big” that he’s ever seen. How many centers in NBA history could complete this play with such precision?

That list may start and end with Jokic.

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