Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) walks to the locker room after his second technical foul during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
DETROIT — Instead of gradually racking up five fouls to stay mostly out of trouble, Nikola Jokic sped up the process this time.
In the second straight Rust Belt game in which the referees’ frustration simmered and simmered to boiling over, Jokic followed Nuggets coach Michael Malone down the tunnel almost exactly a quarter after Malone was ejected for challenging calls at the start of a 107. -103 Denver victory against the Pistons.
The Nuggets (10-4) escaped a rocky finish with airtight interior defense, ending a four-game road losing streak and extending Detroit’s skid to 12 games. Reggie Jackson led the charge without Jokic with 21 points, six assists and no turnovers in an otherwise chaotic and calamitous game.
“Winning character,” Malone said. “That’s what I would say. Character victory.
Jackson converted a baseline floater with a foul to tie the Pistons at 97, gave the Nuggets a 103-101 lead with a layup, then threw an assist to Aaron Gordon that turned into a go-ahead pass and one with 1:33 left. . Denver never relinquished that lead. The one time Jackson faltered, getting crossed by Cade Cunningham in the final 20 seconds with a three-point lead, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope rotated on help defense to force a missed layup. Caldwell-Pope also scored 20.
“Go up and use the verticality rule, defending without fouling,” Malone said. “…It was a huge room. And that’s what makes KCP such a great advocate.
Jokic’s ejection was prompted by his second technical foul of the night 1:21 before halftime. That came a day after he played a season-low 27 minutes due to foul trouble in Cleveland.
He was brimming with attitude from the first tip Monday, collecting his first technical within five minutes for disputing a lane violation call. When Jokic and Marvin Bagley III tangled off the ball during a Nuggets possession moments later, Jokic appeared to sarcastically applaud the officials for calling the foul on Bagley instead of him.
By the end of the half, Jokic was annoyed enough to stop dribbling during a live ball situation as he tried to back up Bagley. He let the ball bounce, sleepily, while giving the nearest official his disconcerted arm gesture.
No call. Live balloon.
Jokic regained possession then flailed as Isaiah Stewart turned to pass him and help Bagley push the ball away. This also did not give rise to any fault. The ball slowly went out of bounds for a Nuggets sideout. But rather than move on, Jokic continued to clash with referee Tre Maddox, while alternate head coach David Adelman tried to get between them. Maddox handed Jokic another technical, and Jokic left a game that was soon 56-55 Nuggets at halftime.
“He doesn’t need to apologize. They smear him, and they don’t criticize him literally,” Gordon said. “They get their hands on him. They push him. It’s a mistake. When someone has their back to the basket, you can’t put both hands on him, and they keep putting both hands on him. It is therefore a mistake. I can understand his frustration.
Jackson, the ex-Piston, scored the layup to give Denver this slim lead. He was greeted with light pregame boos during his introduction, but Jokic mostly received applause from Detroit fans during the starting lineup intros. As the two-time MVP left the game, the local Pistons station expressed its displeasure with the officiating crew: “Let me tell you this, these fans didn’t come here to see Curtis Blair, Tre Maddox or Andy Nagy, whoever they are.”
Jackson also scored 18 points against his most recent team, the Clippers, six days earlier. Is there anything to play against his former teams?
“Yeah,” he said. “I still love my old teams. I always enjoy my stay there. But I have to try to be there when you play your old teams.
Nikola Jokic committed his second technical foul and was ejected just before halftime in Nuggets-Pistons
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was ejected after picking up two technicians earlier in the half.pic.twitter.com/gZ4gH2K3JL
– Clutch Points (@ClutchPoints) November 21, 2023
The reason why Adelman was the man trying to intervene with Jokic? Blair, the team leader, started Malone with 1:22 left in the first quarter. Malone’s tipping point was a foul on Nuggets rookie Julian Strawther, who was the first player to dive on a loose ball on Denver’s defensive side of the court. An opposing player tripped over Strawther while trying to chase the ball, but Strawther was whistled. Malone turned to the second row of the bench to watch the replay as the game continued, then continued to yell at the officials.
Unlike Jokic, Malone received both techniques two seconds apart.
“We teach our guys to be first on the field,” Malone said. “First to the ground. Win the 50-50 battle. And in that room, I felt that Julian was the first on the ground. Do exactly what we ask him to do. So I applaud Julian for trying to fight for that loose ball. But the official is the official, and we move on and get ready to go to Orlando.