New NBA Player of the Year Nikola Jokic has apologized for being sent off in Sunday’s game that eliminated the Denver Nuggets, though he insisted he had no intention of hitting Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne.
The referees ruled for a surprise dismissal in the third quarter for a powerful kick from Jokic to Payne while he was trying to snatch the ball from him, a referee decision that Denver coach Mike Malone questioned.
The Serbian slapped the ball controlled by Cameron Payne, apparently hitting him with his arm in the face.
Djokic explained to the media: “He wanted to change the rhythm of the match, he wanted to give us some energy (…) so I tried to make a fatal mistake.” “Did I hit him, didn’t I hit him? We don’t know. So I apologize if I did because I didn’t want to hit him on the head or injure him.”
After the foul, Suns guard Devin Booker ran to reprimand Jokic for the procedure and they had to be fired by their teammates.
The quarterback didn’t want to influence whether he expected the referees to consider the blatant 2 foul, which sent the MVP into the locker room for 3 minutes 52 seconds to play in the third quarter of a game that ended up losing the Nuggets 125.-118.
“I don’t know if I think they will fire me,” he said. “It happens, it cannot be changed.”
“I shouldn’t have done it, it was my fault. I’m sorry, but I can’t change it now,” explained the Serbian coach, who finished the match with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The “Joker” acknowledged the dedication of his teammates during a season in which they lost their second sword, Canadian Jamal Murray, due to injury.
“We fight, we never give up, even today. You have to give credit to the boys (…),” said Djokic, who also did not confirm if he would play for Serbia in the Tokyo Olympics.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The season just ended.”
In turn, coach Michael Malone questioned the referees’ decision to expel the best player.
“I myself saw the reboot on one of the computers and assumed it would be a blatant 1 at worst,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a malicious game not related to basketball. I think it was frustrating.”
“I didn’t think he deserved a red card because he played ball,” Malone said. “I’m still a little surprised that the best player was sent off in a play like that.”