Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic could be facing a suspension from the NBA after the league MVP was ejected Monday night with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat for aggressively blindsiding power forward Markieff Morris from behind in retaliation to a hard foul.
Jokic had rebounded the ball and brought it down court when he passed the ball near midcourt. Morris, trying to stop play, gave a hard foul with his left elbow to Jokic’s exposed right side as the center was delivering an overhead pass. As Morris walked away, an irate Jokic took a couple of steps and delivered a hard right forearm shove with his weight behind him to Morris’ back, sending the Heat forward flying hard to the floor.
Morris was assessed a flagrant foul two while Jokic was ejected before the Nuggets took a 113-96 win over Miami. Jokic’s retaliation from behind will certainly be reviewed by the NBA, which could levy a suspension and fine.
“That was a very dangerous and dirty play,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the game. “Keef took a foul, and it was one of those fastbreak-take fouls, and he did with his shoulder. You might deem that maybe as a little bit more than just slapping somebody, but after watching it on film, it was a take foul. That’s how I saw it. And the play after, that’s just absolutely uncalled for.”
Jokic said he felt the need to protect himself but that he felt bad after seeing how hard he shoved Morris in the back.
“It’s a stupid play,” Jokic told reporters after the game. “I feel bad. I am not supposed to react that way. … I thought it was going to be a take foul. … I think it was a dirty play. And I just needed to protect myself. I felt bad, I am not supposed to react that way, but I need to protect myself.”
Jokic later added: “I don’t know who showed me the clip, and actually his head snapped back [after the shove] so I feel really bad. … It’s a bad move.”
The Nuggets, already without the injured Jamal Murray, were playing without Michael Porter Jr. on Monday due to a lower back injury. The Nuggets, who play Indiana on Wednesday, could potentially be without their top three players in that game.
“I will concern myself when they tell us he’s suspended,” Denver coach Michael Malone said when asked about a possible suspension for Jokic, who had a triple-double of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists Monday. “I am not going to waste any of my time looking into my crystal ball and my tea leaves. I don’t have any of that. He’s available until they tell me he’s not. And I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be available Wednesday night.”
Spoelstra said Morris was OK after the hard foul and was moving around in the locker room.
“This whole thing could have been a whole lot uglier if Markieff was actually facing Jokic,” Spoelstra said. “The fact that he had his back turned and he made a play like that, blindsiding him, just a very dangerous play.”
The altercation resulted in both coaching staffs and officials trying to keep the peace. As Jokic sat on the bench while things were still being sorted out on the court, emotions were running high. Miami’s Jimmy Butler shouted toward the Nuggets and had to be held back. He received a technical foul.
“The video and picture is worth a thousand words,” Spoelstra said when asked about the mood of the Heat players after the incident.