This was not Nikola Jokic’s first ejection of the season. As the giant Serbian drew two quick technicals from referee James Capers with 3:47 left in the fourth quarter on Saturday night, he was escorted off the court, screaming at an official, for the second time in two weeks.
The score read 88-86, advantage Washington, at the time of the ejection. Denver would go on to lose 95-90 as they were forced to close without two starters.
Here is the play leading up to Nikola Jokic's ejection, the ejection itself, as well as Jokic's reaction to the ejection. pic.twitter.com/6aiv6sICAE— T.J. McBride (@TJMcBrideNBA) April 1, 2019
Some might have expected Malone to go to bat for his superstar, as some coaches have in the past when their best players don’t seem to be on the favorable end of the whistle. But Malone didn’t mince his words in the postgame scrum.
“It does not matter,” head coach Michael Malone told the media, when asked what he saw on the play. “He cannot get tossed. I do not care what they do to him or how bad the refereeing is. Foul call or no foul call, it does not matter. He is too valuable to our team. This is the second time it has happened. He cannot get tossed.”
This isn’t the first, second, or third time that Malone has stood in front of the media and addressed questions regarding the composure of his young star. It’s been a problem for Nikola going back to last season, and in training camp, back in September, he expressed that keeping his cool in these situations was a goal he’d set for himself.
“Sometimes it’s really hard,” Jokic told the media, when asked to evaluate his composure since those comments. “The ball is in my hands a lot so there’s a lot of contact there. I know I’m not going to get every call, but the obvious ones at least.”
There was a stark juxtaposition between Malone and Jokic’s comments after the game. Malone was short, perturbed, and clear in where he felt the responsibility lied. Jokic was surprisingly candid, fairly upbeat, and still in disbelief over the no call.
“I was fouled one hun—I mean, they’re going to see it on the two-minute review or whatever,” Jokic told reporters. “They’re going to see that it was a foul or whatever.
“I said, ‘James, he slapped me with two hands on my head’. I don’t know, did I swear or something? But he gave me technical. I said something back, he said ‘do you want another one?’ I said, ‘I don’t care’ and he gave me another one.”
Jokic may not care, but Malone does. And he’s made it clear that the onus is on Jokic to keep his composure moving forward. His teammates need him. He needs to know that.
The validity of the calls themselves notwithstanding, Jokic’s interactions with referees have been a talking point within the media and the fan base since he was handed the keys to the offense. He argues when he doesn’t get a call, he argues when he does. He yells if he thinks he was hacked, he yells if they think he did the hacking. Whether Jokic does, or does not receive the appropriate respect from the officials is a fair question. But the answer, frankly, is irrelevant.
It’s time for Jokic to change his approach. There’s little to gain by arguing with an official in-game. And as we learned on Saturday night, there’s plenty to lose. Like the game itself.
At 24-years-old, Jokic still has time to develop thicker skin. It’s possible that these tantrums are simply symptomatic of his youth. It’s possible that he outgrows them.
“Hopefully,” Malone responded when asked that is indeed the case. “Hopefully he learns from his mistakes.”
With that, Malone looked up, thanked the media, and walked off prematurely—saddled with the weight of the moment. Saddled with the pressure that his young star does not yet feel.