Jokic’s late-game altercation overshadows the Nuggets best performance
It was the Nuggets best game of the season until it wasn’t. For 45 minutes and 21 seconds, Denver dominated a Miami Heat team that is as good as any in the NBA. That should be the story today, but it’s not.
With the Nuggets leading 111-94, Nikola Jokic blocked Bam Adebayo at the rim and started another Denver fast break. That’s when Markieff Morris lowered his shoulder and took a cheap shot “take” foul at mid-court on the reigning MVP. And Jokic lost his temper and all self-control.
He immediately struck back at Morris. He delivered a forearm to the shoulder blades that sent Morris to the floor and Jokic to the showers.
Jokic’s night ended early after a 25-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in dominating fashion against an Eastern Conference contender. So today, instead of talking about the Nuggets best offensive and defensive performance of the season, we’re left wondering how many games Jokic will be suspended.
The night should have ended in celebration. A big home win over a great team, and some very positive answers to rotation questions that came up when it was announced Michael Porter Jr. would be out of the line-up for the “foreseeable future,” as Michael Malone put it before the game.
Jeff Green started in Porter’s place and the offense clicked immediately. Malone said “Jeff knows how to play” and it was evident how much better the offense flowed.
Bones Hyland got the call as the first point guard off the bench replacing Facu Campazzo in the rotation. The second unit was suddenly attacking the paint instead of playing pick-and-pop. Instead of losing a lead in the second quarter, they helped build a 15-point advantage with a 64-point first half.
The Denver defense forced Miami into 39.7 percent shooting and held Kyle Lowry scoreless. They out-rebounded the Heat by a dozen and had 28 assists to just nine turnovers. The ball was moving, and shots started falling. The Nuggets looked like the team we expected them to be but hadn’t seen through the season’s first nine games.
But Morris’ dirty foul and Jokic’s reaction overshadowed all of the good the Nuggets accomplished.
Jokic is beaten, scratched and clawed night after night as much as any player in the league. Maybe as much as any player since Shaq. There’s a reason why he was frustrated after not getting whistles against a physical Miami team all night. But that’s still no excuse for his reaction.
And despite Michael Malone’s straight-faced statement saying he expected Jokic to be available Wednesday against Indiana, he won’t be. And he probably won’t be available for a few games after.
For 45 minutes on Monday night, the Nuggets had finally solved their rotation problems around their cornerstone. Now, they’ll have to figure out how to solve them without their MVP centerpiece for a few games.