As if anyone who loves the Nuggets needed more proof the basketball gods hate Denver, the NBA took the MVP trophy awarded to center NIkola Jokic and stuck it to him where the sun doesn’t shine.
We all know life’s not fair. But how does commissioner Adam Silver look himself in the mirror this morning and feel good about ejecting Jokic from the 125-118 loss to Phoenix on Sunday night that eliminated the Nuggets from the NBA playoffs?
“I am shocked and am still a bit shocked,” said Denver coach Michael Malone, “that they called a flagrant 2 and ejected the MVP on such a play.”
While being swept away by the Suns in four games, when anything and everything that could go wrong for the Nuggets slapped them as coarsely and unforgivingly as the bristles on a broom, the last cruel joke was on Joker.
For his final act of the greatest season in franchise history, Jokic lost his ever-loving mind.
“I shouldn’t do that. Of course, it was my bad,” Jokic said. “I’m sorry.”
The league MVP got caught with his dander up and his pants down. That’s on Joker. Stupid is as stupid does. It’s never cool for a superstar to lose his composure in a way that dooms his teammates to defeat.
But it’s also fair to ask: Would league officials have dared to eject LeBron James for a similar basketball crime?
“Not going to touch (that question),” Malone told me. “I’ll let you write on that, Kiz.”
So let me say: There’s no way LeBron or K.D. gets run off the floor in a do-or-die situation for slapping Suns reserve guard Cameron Payne in the face.
“I tried to make a hard foul,” Jokic said. “Did I hit him? I don’t know, so I say sorry if I did, because I didn’t want to injure him or hit him in the head on purpose.”
It doesn’t excuse Joker’s stupidity, though.
As easy as it is to point a finger of blame at Payne for flopping in a manner that would embarrass the most shameless soccer player, Jokic should know it’s never a wise move to get a red card at crunch time.
With the Nuggets trailing 83-75 and teetering on the brink of elimination from the playoffs, the refs ejected Jokic with 3 minutes, 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Temper, temper, temper.
After Jokic missed a floater in the lane and the Suns collected the rebound, the MVP cocked his arm in obvious frustration over his head and slapped at the basketball, grazing the face of Payne, who sold the foul with the worst acting job since Johnny Depp tried to make us believe he was Willy Wonka.
It was Joker’s angry intent, not the damage done to his opponent’s face, that got him in trouble.
Was his swat at Payne, who splatted like a bug on a windshield, enough in and of itself to merit a flagrant 2 foul and an ejection from Game 4 in this best-of-seven series? Not in my book.
Although ref David Guthrie insisted Jokic’s malicious intent was the only thing punished, I’m convinced what sealed the center’s banishment to the Denver locker room was not letting go of his anger. As players on both teams reacted to the sight of Payne crumpled on the floor, Jokic got up in the grill of foe Devin Booker with his testosterone spiking to dangerous levels and bumped the Phoenix star in the chest before order was quickly restored.
In the anxious moments while referees studied video of the fracas, Jokic took a seat on the scorer’s table, rising only to slowly drop his trunks below his buttocks and reveal his compression tights. Without uttering a word, maybe that was Joker’s way of telling the refs exactly what he thought of their form of NBA justice.
When the verdict from the replay was announced, it took a moment for Jokic to realize he was done with 22 points and his season was over. He walked slowly off the court to chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
I’m not certain if this is what Malone had in mind when he exhorted the Nuggets to stubbornly refuse the option of going quietly into that good night.
But make no mistake. Malone wanted it known he loves the Joker, will go to war with him anytime and it’s now up to the Nuggets to help their MVP carry the load.
When the burden’s so heavy it makes Joker crack, it’s a stark reminder that no man can win a championship by himself.