Nikola Jokić is ejected in Nugget’s 126-106 loss to Warriors


And so it went almost all night.

And so it went almost all night.
picture: Getty Images

The man expected to win one of the closest MVP fights in recent memory has fueled his critics.

Nikola Jokić could use some of that Mile High air because he’s struggling mightily near sea level in San Francisco. Another Splash Brother has taken the lead, creating a points tsunami that capsized the Nuggets’ schooner during the first two games of their playoff series.

Once the series returns to Denver on Thursday, Jokić will have to prove he has the playoff juice. The Nuggets entered this series as underdogs. Despite this, they are drowned out by Jordan Poole and Steph Curry. In 63 minutes spent on the ground, Jokić was surpassed with 63 points.

If guarded by Draymond Green, he might as well have been a weekend warrior being pushed around an LA gym. Green’s energy, physicality and quick hands prompted Jokić to pick up his dribbling early and fire off desperate Clutters from the edge. Sure, he finished the game with 26 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, but a lot of those points came from possession when he faced Kevon Looney. When Denver needed Jokić to stop the Warriors’ momentum, Green was there to jail him with a 126-106 blowout.

Green is a frustrating task for Jokić. He’s the rare little ball 5 that can keep up with Jokić defensively anywhere on the floor and yet isn’t a burden offensively. The last time an MVP looked this anemic against the Warriors was Dirk Nowitzki in 2007. Granted, these “We Believe” Warriors were an 8-seed vs. a 1, but Nowitzki’s temper and the struggles that come with it in this series changed perceptions about him by 2011.

Green’s physical defense eventually led to Jokić complaining to the officials and being given a second technician. He’s likely to win his second straight MVP next month, but once the postseason kicks into action, his game stalls while Giannis and Embiid shift into higher gear.

Jokić was visibly nervous in Game 2 as his ego was beaten worse than the Nuggets fan caught hands from the Suns in 4 fan. This streak also ended with Jokić’s temper flaring up in game 4 of their battle against the mercy of the suns. The Nuggets were down by just eight when Jokić recklessly swiped at the ball and punched Cameron Payne in the face. Devin Booker stood up for his fallen teammate and Jokić took the bait, puffing his chest against Booker and earning a season-ending kickout.

In November, Jokić’s temper once again got the best of him when he fiercely pushed Markieff Morris from behind during a win over the Heat on 8 November. Before Game 2, Green was convinced that Jokić was about to break out after a flat performance from Joker in Game 1.

“I have a feeling he’s going to try to come out and give me 40 [points]15 [rebounds] and 15 [assists] next game. He’s pissed and he’s coming back with a vengeance tomorrow,” Green said on the podium after Golden State’s Game 1 win.

Instead it imploded. However, Jokić will play two games in front of his home crowd to rise to the stratosphere and face the Warriors’ challenge. As the Splash Brothers reacquaint themselves with postseason basketball, the reigning MVP pushes Sisyphus’ rock up the hill. There are three Splash Brothers and only one of him. Jokić’s all-around game is vital for the Nuggets, but the extra scoring punch he needs in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. isn’t available.

Game 3 is coming up and one of those Death Squad warriors will return to Earth in front of the Chase Center. That anger Jokić has expressed between games needs to be translated into possessions he meanders through.

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