Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić ejected vs. Bulls after arguing with referee: ‘Sometimes you have to be the bad guy’

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CHICAGO — From his seated position two cubicles over from Nikola Jokić in the visitor’s locker room inside the United Center, Denver Nuggets backup center DeAndre Jordan jokingly called the reigning NBA Finals MVP a bad guy.

“Sometimes,” Jokić responded, “you have to be the bad guy.”

Jokić embraced his second ejection in three weeks, this time from the Nuggets’ 114-106 victory over the Bulls on Tuesday. He was tossed from the contest with 1 minute, 8 seconds remaining in the second quarter for arguing a no-call with official Mousa Dagher.

Nikola Jokić was ejected from the game after this play…

🎥 @BleacherReportpic.twitter.com/3KOg0bByVR

— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) December 13, 2023

Jokić turned to Dagher after missing a reverse layup in which Bulls center Nikola Vučević made contact during Jokić’s shooting motion. As the Bulls transitioned to offense, Jokić voiced his displeasure. Dagher allowed Chicago’s fast break to conclude and waited for a stoppage in play before assessing Jokić one technical and swiftly ejecting him from the contest.

The official crew chief, Mark Lindsay, told a pool reporter following the game Jokić language reached the standard for an ejection.

According to a league source, Jokić said “motherf—er, call the f—ing foul.”

Jokić agreed that his language warranted an ejection.

Nikola Jokic agreed that his language warranted an ejection tonight at Chicago.

“It is what it is,” Jokic said. pic.twitter.com/Wax6uI0Bc8

— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) December 13, 2023

“Sometimes what I said is not even a technical,” Jokić said. “So it is what it is. I crossed the line. But sometimes that word doesn’t cross the line.”

Nuggets coach Mike Malone focused more on his team’s gutsy performance playing while shorthanded than Jokić’s removal. Malone did say he was shocked Jokić was ejected after one technical foul.

“And when I heard what he said, I said, ‘I don’t understand the problem because when I grew up that was a term of endearment in my house,’ ” Malone joked.

Mike Malone on Jokic’s ejection:

“He just felt the language that was used warranted an ejection. A one-tech ejection l, which I was very shocked at. And when I heard what he said, I said ‘I don’t understand the problem because when I grew up that was a term of endearment.” pic.twitter.com/0k9M1wLKY7

— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) December 13, 2023

Jokić finished with four points, nine rebounds and six assists in 16 minutes. It was his second ejection in three weeks. Jokić was tossed in the first quarter at Detroit on Nov. 20, also for arguing with an official.

“We won both the games so maybe that’s the key,” Jokić said. “Maybe that’s the way to go.”

The Nuggets also were missing starting point guard Jamal Murray, and starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played only 13 minutes after being knocked out with a head injury.

“I’m starting to think he’s overrated and that we don’t need him as much,” Malone joked about Jokić.

The Nuggets improved to 5-1 on the second night of back-to-backs.

“Unfortunate,” Malone said of Jokić’s ejection. “But we won the game, and that’s all that matters. I don’t want to spend time worrying about Nikola getting tossed because guys like Michael (Porter Jr.), Aaron (Gordon), Reggie (Jackson) and everybody off the bench, they deserve all the attention right now.”

Jackson, filling in for Murray, scored a team-high 25 points for the Nuggets. Gordon (17 points) started defensively on Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan and switched to Bulls center Nikola Vučević in the second half. Reserves Julian Strawther (16 points) and Christian Braun (13 points) added important contributions on a needed night.

“What I’m starting to feel is our young guys are starting to get more comfortable and confident,” Malone said. “Look at the road trip Julian just had. Last night in Atlanta. Tonight in Chicago. Playing aggressively. You’ve got to give Christian Braun so much credit. He’s not a point guard. And when there’s no Jamal, Christian becomes our de facto backup point guard. And he’s done it well for us. Peyton’s defense. The guys were asking Peyton to guard every night. And he’s going out there and doing a really good job.

“I think our young guys, they’re in a rhythm, they have some confidence and they’re playing more and more aggressively, which is fun to watch.”

But in Chicago, home of the second most Serbs in the world outside of Belgrade, fans felt cheated. It was Jokić’s lone visit to Chicago this season. One choice word cut his night short.

“You never want to get ejected, of course,” Jokić said. “But it sometimes happens.”

Malone said Jokić’s engagement with officials is something to monitor. Malone added that he can do a better job taking up for his star.

“One, we’re a better team with Nikola,” Malone said. “And maybe I have to do a better job personally, to be honest. Because if he’s getting fouled or he thinks he’s getting fouled, let me take the tech. That’s my job as the head coach because I don’t want him being put in that position where he is getting thrown out because it’s not good for him and more importantly, it’s not good for the team.

“And we can talk all day long about how great our bench was tonight. But in the big picture, we need Nikola available. And he knows that. And we just have to work on how we engage and how we communicate with the referees and handle that frustration. And I can definitely help in that regard.”


Required reading

  • Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets are defending their championship with defense
  • Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić, coach Michael Malone ejected vs. Pistons after complaining to officials
  • Nikola Jokić is ‘in a good place’ and that’s good news for Nuggets’ title defense

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(Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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