The Phoenix Suns officially eliminated the Denver Nuggets this past Sunday night completing a four-game sweep. Phoenix dominated the series in essentially every way they could and look like the best team in the Western Conference at this point. Besides the Nuggets losing the series, they lost big man Nikola Jokic to a rather controversial flagrant 2 foul late in the third quarter. Once Jokic left, it was all downhill for the Nuggets after that.
Jokic was named the MVP this season for an already depleted Nuggets team heading into the playoffs. However, Denver remained strong and they ultimately fought their way into the semifinals. Denver was already without star guard Jamal Murray since April and the loss of the MVP big man was the cherry on top and the end to the Nuggets season.
Jokic was assessed the flagrant two foul after he swiped at the ball held by Suns guard Cameron Payne and slightly hit Payne’s nose during the swipe. The Nuggets were falling behind even further when Jokic went for the ball and it led to a skirmish between Jokic and Devin Booker. Based on what most people saw on TV and in person, it was not a flagrant two-worthy foul. Jokic’s intent was purely to hit the ball away from Payne, and with Denver only down 83-76 at the time, Jokic leaving the game definitely affected the outcome.
The way I see it, ejecting Jokic at such a key time of the game for a non-malicious foul, was not necessary. Jokic finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in his 28 minutes of play and more than likely were on his way to another triple-double performance to keep his team alive. Jokic leaving was a kick in the face to Denver, and that seven-point deficit grew a few times without the presence of Jokic rebounding and running the offense. Teams never truly realize how much impact an MVP player has until they are not in the game anymore.
Something important to note also, I am not discrediting the Sun’s play overall. Phoenix played great all series and beat the Nuggets systematically and efficiently. Chris Paul showed that father time has not claimed him yet with a 37 point performance, and Devin Booker continued his playoff tear with a 34 point performance. However, I fully believe that Jokics paint presence would have limited some key shots from Chris Paul and Devin Booker late down the stretch of the game.
The ultimate truth to this series is that Phoenix swept Denver and put the Nuggets in a win-or-go-home situation. Denver did not play nearly as well as they could have and gave up easy wins in nearly every game. Losing Nikola Jokic was a huge blow to the Nuggets’ chances and it essentially led to their demise in the playoffs. Should that flagrant two not be called and only a double technical after the skirmish with Booker, Denver stays in that game and maybe even stays alive for one more game.
The NBA needs to be careful and not let that kind of call become a regular occurrence in a win-or-go-home game, especially when the team affected has the league MVP on it and he is the one ejected.
Phoenix will take on the winner of the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, which looks to be a phenomenal series while Denver is done. What happens next for Denver? Probably some vacation and relaxation time until it is time to worry about next season.
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