Because the Denver Nuggets edged nearer to playoff elimination, league MVP Nikola Jokic was ejected from Sunday night time’s sport with a flagrant foul 2 after taking a wild swing in frustration at Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne.
“I needed to alter the rhythm of the sport, I needed to provide us some vitality, possibly change the whistle just a little bit, so I needed to make a tough foul,” Jokic mentioned. “Did I hit him, did I not hit him? We do not know. So I make an apology if I did as a result of I didn’t need to injure him or hit him within the head on objective.”
Following a prolonged evaluation, Jokic was handed the flagrant 2 and ejected from Recreation 4 of Denver’s Western Convention semifinal sequence with 3:52 remaining within the third quarter and the Nuggets trailing the Suns by eight.
“I believed actually they might not eject me,” Jokic mentioned.
With Jokic out, the Suns went on to win 125-118 to advance to the Western Convention finals, finishing a 4-0 sweep at Denver. The resilient Nuggets tried to remain shut, slicing Phoenix’s result in 4 factors with 8 minutes left, however could not match the closing capability of Chris Paul and the Suns.
“I simply did not really feel prefer it warranted a flagrant 2 ejection as a result of he is making a play on the ball,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone mentioned. “There’s marginal contact to Cameron Payne’s nostril I imagine. So I used to be shocked. I am nonetheless just a little bit shocked that they known as a flagrant 2 and ejected the MVP on such a play.”
The foul got here after Jokic did not get a name on a one-handed runner, as he briefly glanced over at a referee and gestured. In obvious frustration on the no-call, he ran over to take a tough swipe on the ball, hitting Payne throughout the face.
“From my vantage level and watching the replay, I didn’t assume it was a non-basketball play with malicious intent,” Malone mentioned. “I believe it was a frustration foul. Nikola in all probability felt the final couple performs when he had the ball he had not obtained a foul name. And he went over there to take a foul. Which he has executed loads of occasions. Lots of gamers do this.”
Suns coach Monty Williams additionally was bowled over.
“I did not actually assume it was something malicious,” Williams mentioned. “In these moments you need to regulate your feelings. That is what we have been speaking about all season lengthy.”
Referee David Guthrie may very well be heard on the printed explaining the choice, saying, “After replay evaluation, there may be windup, influence and follow-through.”
“I believe it was one thing like, windup, malicious intent, another mumbo jumbo,” Malone mentioned of the reason he was given. “Clearly, you lose the MVP, it may make it even tougher to stave off elimination.”
Suns star Devin Booker took fast exception to the play from Jokic, confronting the massive man as each groups briefly scuffled earlier than being separated. Booker was assessed a technical foul.
“That is all I mentioned, simply ‘What are you doing?'” Booker mentioned. “It is simply an emotional play. I do not assume he meant hurt by it. Only a frustration foul. It is robust, simply defending my teammate, that was it.
“I’ve performed in opposition to the Joker a number of occasions,” Booker mentioned. “I do know he is not a malicious participant.”
After he was ejected, Jokic appeared to apologize to Payne.
“I should not do this. In fact it was my unhealthy. I am sorry,” Jokic mentioned. “However I can not change it now. It occurs.”
Nikola Jokic explains what he was making an attempt to do when he was ejected for a tough foul on Cameron Payne because the Nuggets get swept by the Suns.
A flagrant 2 is outlined as being “pointless and extreme contact dedicated by a participant in opposition to an opponent.”
“At replay evaluation we noticed windup, influence, and follow-through, which result in pointless and extreme contact above the shoulders and likewise into the face. Which by rule met the standards for a flagrant foul penalty 2,” Guthrie defined through a pool reporter postgame.
Jokic left the sport having recorded 22 factors on 9-of-17 taking pictures, to associate with 11 rebounds and 4 assists in 28 minutes. He’s solely the fifth MVP ever to be swept in a playoff sequence, becoming a member of Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wes Unseld. For the third time in his profession, Jokic led the Nuggets within the sequence in factors, rebounds and assists.
The Suns dominated the sequence, successful by a mean of 15.7 factors. There have been no solutions to Paul, who displayed his mastery of the midrange all through the sequence, ending Recreation 4 with 37 factors on 14-of-19 taking pictures.
“I am not going to permit this sequence to outline the season,” Malone mentioned. “Hopefully subsequent yr we are able to discover a method to keep wholesome and be higher and see the place we are able to go.”
For the Nuggets, it was a tough finish to an inspiring season, as they overcame the devastating harm to Jamal Murray to nonetheless end because the West’s third seed and advance previous the primary spherical over the Portland Trail Blazers, whereas additionally seeing Jokic topped because the league’s MVP.
“The entire season was nice, I believe,” Jokic mentioned. “Till the final 4 video games.”
The Related Press contributed to this report.