Referees ejected Jokic from the game with over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets already leading by 17 points. The ejection came after The Joker unleashed a needlessly foolish retaliatory shove on Heat forward Markieff Morris.
The incident stained an otherwise perfect evening for Denver. It should have been the night when Jokic emphatically asserted himself as the favorite to win a second consecutive league MVP.
Nikola Jokic’s cheap shot on Markieff Morris became the talk of NBA circles
The Nuggets had Monday’s game well in hand when Markieff Morris decided to do what he does best: Be a pest.
Morris saw Nikola Jokic dribbling the ball up the floor and saw his opportunity to send a bit of a message to the reigning MVP. He gave a forearm shiver right to Jokic’s sternum as soon as the big man crossed the timeline.
Most players would likely react in some fashion. However, there probably should’ve been some recognition that these are the kind of things Morris does as an agitator. Jokic lost all sight of the latter point.
Rather than confront Morris or give him a little push in return, Jokic charged at him and blindsided him with the full force of his body. Morris laid on the ground for some time and looked shaky getting to his feet.
Both men got tossed from the game, but the focus centered on Jokic’s cheap shot. Jimmy Butler, who himself is off to an MVP-type start, hollered at the Nuggets bench and appeared to challenge Jokic to meet in the back. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said the shove was “dangerous” and “dirty,” per ESPN’s Malika Andrews.
The unfortunate thing about the situation is that such a blatant act does not typically fit Jokic’s character. He apologized after the game and took responsibility for his actions.
Still, the shove did quite a bit to detract from the performance. That’s too bad, because the performance itself served as a reminder why Jokic deserves more respect as an NBA favorite.
Jokic put on a clinic against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA
Nikola Jokic dominated every single aspect of Monday’s game, and he did so against one of the best defensive teams in basketball.
The Heat currently rank second in opponent scoring average and fifth in defensive rating even after Monday’s loss. It’s a testament to what they have done on that side of the floor, with Butler playing the passing lanes, Kyle Lowry harassing opposing guards, and Bam Adebayo controlling the interior.
Jokic made that defense look like mincemeat. He scored 15 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting in the first half, collecting eight rebounds and dishing out five assists. Denver’s star center finished the game with 25 points, 15 boards, and 10 dimes in a truly clinical performance.
The Serbian center executed the two-man game with Aaron Gordon to perfection and started breaks in transition either by taking the ball up the floor himself or sending long outlets. He spotted corner shooters with whizzing, one-handed cross-court passes that have become a staple of his game. Jokic also executed dribble-drives when Adebayo and other Heat defenders showed on the perimeter.
Jokic called attention to himself for the wrong reasons at the end of the game. But his performance is in line with how dominant he has been all season.
The Nuggets star leads most advanced categories
Nikola Jokic will almost certainly face discipline from the league for his shove on Morris, which is likely to include a suspension. That would disrupt a phenomenal start to the season.
Through 10 games, Jokic is averaging 25.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. He is shooting 60.9% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc while leading the NBA in player efficiency rating (35.0), box plus-minus (14.3), and value over replacement player (1.3).
In essence, the 26-year-old has only continued to show why he might be the very best player in the NBA, even if he doesn’t get respect from preseason polls or things of that nature. He had his full array of skills on display Monday night, though the shove on Morris and impending suspension leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.