Om YoungmisukESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
PHOENIX — Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic followed a strange incident late in the second quarter of Game 4 on Sunday night that saw the two-time MVP try to make contact with Phoenix Suns owner Matt Ishbia. Basketball starts the next game.
With 2:36 left in the second quarter, Suns forward Josh Okogie flew toward the courtside seats, where Ishbia sat across the baseline from the Phoenix bench.
Ogoki tried to play the ball for the Suns and he landed in the seats near Ishbia who finished with the basketball in his hands. As Ishbia went to check on the Suns player, Jokic, as he often does during games, quickly grabbed the basketball, allowing the Nuggets to begin their offensive possession.
When Jokic tried to take the ball away from Ishbia, it bounced back into the crowd. As Jokic was asking another fan to return the ball, his left elbow made contact with Ishbia’s chest. Ishbia, a former Michigan State walk-on basketball player who was part of the 2000 national championship team, slumped back in his seat with his hands up and an incredulous look on his face.
Ishfia told The Associated Press that he felt “fine” at halftime and was more concerned about the game than the fight. He returned to his usual seats in the second half.
Referees and Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon arrived to make sure nothing got out of hand and that tensions didn’t flare. Jokic, who finished the game with 53 points, was then called for a technical foul, but the Nuggets led 55-54. Phoenix would win the Western Conference semifinal series in two games by a final score of 129-124.
Crew president Tony Brothers, speaking to a pool reporter after the game, said that after grabbing the ball from a “fan,” Jokic “intentionally pushed him, pushed him down.”
Explaining his decision not to eject Jokic, Brothers noted that he “didn’t run out and hit a fan.”
“There was some engagement, so I thought it was an appropriate penalty for a technical foul,” Brothers said.
Jokic gave his perspective on the situation while speaking to reporters after the game.
“The fan got his hands on me first,” Jokic said. “I thought the League would protect us. Maybe I was wrong. I know who they are, but he’s a fan. Isn’t he?”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he thought it was “crazy” that Jokic was assessed a technical foul in that situation.
“Going to get the ball, and some fan holding the ball that wants to be a part of the game. Just give me the ball, man,” Malone said.
Asked if it made a difference that the fan in question was the Suns’ owner, Malone replied, “I don’t give a s—. I really don’t care.”
Suns star Devin Booker — who finished with 36 points and 12 assists — said he knew it was Ishbia in the middle of the scrimmage.
“He got us a point!” Booker said with a grin, noting the Suns continued to make free throws.
Ishbia became the owner of Sons a few months after buying a 57% stake from Robert Sarver for $2.28 billion.
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.