First came a sharp, sharp elbow from Miami power forward Markiff Morris. Then there was a violent, counter-involuntary scuffle with Nuggets star Nikola Jokic.
This is likely to result in a suspension and fine for Jokic.
Last season’s NBA MVP Jokic called his behavior “stupid” late on Monday night in Denver’s 113-96 win. Angry coach Eric Spoelstra of Miami called it “a very dangerous and dirty game”.
Here’s how events unfolded at Ball Arena:
With 2 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in a physical game, Jokic rebounded the ball and brought it down the court, and then passed over midcourt. Morris, attempting to stop play, struck Jokic with a hard elbow to Jokic’s exposed right side as Jokic was throwing an overhead pass.
Jokic, clearly annoyed by the apparent foul, quickly went past Morris, decking him with a stern right hand in the back. Miami went down hard ahead.
A stretcher was brought out, but after several minutes on the court, Morris was able to walk on his feet to the Heat’s locker room. The team later said that Morris suffered a neck injury, but said he was up and walking around the locker room and would probably be fine.
Morris was given a clear foul two while Jokic was ruled out of the game.
“It was a very dangerous and dirty game,” Spoelstra said after the game. “Keefe took a foul, and it was one of those fastbreak-take fouls, and he did it to his shoulder. You might think it’s a little more than just slapping someone, but after seeing it on film , It was a foul. That’s what I saw. And the drama after that, that’s absolutely unnecessary.”
Jokic admitted that he was worried he might have hurt Morris, but gave his opinion on what happened.
“I feel bad,” said Jokic, who scored 25 points in his first triple-double of the season with 15 rebounds and 10 assists. “It was a stupid play. I shouldn’t have reacted like that.
“I thought it would be a foul, (but) I think it was a dirty game. And I just needed to defend myself. I felt bad, I shouldn’t have reacted like that, but I myself need to be saved.”
For a moment, it felt like a fight might break out as the players started pushing and shouting at each other. Jimmy Butler of Miami screamed and pointed to the Nuggets and they had to stop. He was called for technical. The officials and both the coaching staff prevented the situation from deteriorating.
If Jokic is suspended, the Nuggets will be short-handed for Wednesday night’s game against Indiana at the Ball Arena. Denver is already without the injured Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. is likely to miss several games with a lower back injury.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone dodged questions about whether he thinks his center will be suspended.
“When they tell us they’ve been suspended, I’ll be worried,” Malone said. “I am not going to waste any time looking at my crystal ball and my tea leaves. I don’t have anything like that. He is available until they tell me he is not. And I see no reason why he shouldn’t be available on Wednesday nights.
None of the Heat players were made available to the media, but Spoelstra spoke for them.
“If Markief had actually been facing Jokic, the whole thing could have gone a lot worse,” Spoelstra said. “The fact that (Morris) turned his back and (Jokic) made a play like this blinded him, just a very dangerous game.”
Asked about the mood of his players in the Heat locker room, the coach said: “Video and picture are worth a thousand words.”