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Nikola Jokic fined for courtside incident with Suns owner Mat Ishbia, avoids suspension

The Nuggets big man and Suns owner got into a scuffle on the sidelines in Game 4.

Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets rushes to retrieve the game ball as Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia inserts himself into the action by clutching the ball as he helps Josh Okogie to his feet after Okogie flew into the stands during the second quarter at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Sunday, May 7, 2023.
Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

Update: The NBA will not suspend Jokic for his involvement in the dust-up in Game 4 with Suns owner Mat Ishbia, per Adrian Wojnarowski. Jokic will receiver a $25k fine though, likely because he did potentially escalate the situation rather than just walking away.

If you watched Game 4 of the 2023 NBA playoffs between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns Sunday, you saw a dominant performance from superstars on both sides in a Suns victory which leveled the series at 2-2. You may have also seen Nikola Jokic get in an altercation with Suns owner Mat Ishbia on the sidelines. Jokic was assessed a dead-ball technical foul in the immediate aftermath, but will a league suspension follow?

Let’s first break down exactly what happened.

Ishbia sees a player on his team, Josh Okogie, fly out of bounds attempt to chase the ball that lands in Ishbia’s hands. As the owner, he’s likely making sure his guy is fine and doesn’t want to give the ball back to the official before his player gets up. Jokic, who was clearly unaware of Ishbia’s status and position as Suns owner, rapidly and somewhat aggressively attempts to get the ball from him. This leads to a bit of a mix-up with some other fans and Jokic appears to throw a light elbow at Ishbia. The Suns owner, who played college ball at Michigan State, hits a textbook flop and throws his arms up wondering if the officials will say anything.

Here’s what Jokic and Ishbia had to say on the incident.

I’m not usually one to side with billionaire sports owners, but Jokic is spinning a narrative that doesn’t quite exist. Yes, fans can get rowdy and create a potentially dangerous situation for the players. However, Jokic did attempt to go grab the ball from Ishbia for no real reason other than to push the pace with the Suns potentially down a guy who had just crashed into fans. The officials likely would’ve stopped the game anyway to allow Okogie to get back on the floor.

Secondly, Jokic is listed at 6-11, 284 lbs. Ishbia, based on measurements from his college days, is 5-10, 175 lbs. The man who is nearly a foot taller and 100 lbs heavier while also being a two-time league MVP at the peak of his career in great physical condition begging for “protection” seems a bit weak. The officials did throw out a different fan who made contact with Jokic and there’s reason for players to be concerned when they spill into the sidelines on the road if there’s a mob of fans, but this is a bit over the top. He didn’t technically enter the stands but he did put himself in a position to interact with them in close proximity.

Lastly, that one point did not influence the game. The Nuggets consistently left Landry Shamet, a career 39% three-point shooter, open in the corner in the fourth quarter. Shamet went 5-8 from deep in the win. That influenced the game far more than Ishbia holding the ball for a few seconds longer than he needed to.

The league is unlikely to suspend Jokic ahead of Game 5, especially if Ishbia feels the way he does. The owner can simply put a call in to Adam Silver and say “play on”. The Nuggets have much bigger problems on their minds heading into Game 5 at home with the series tied 2-2.