The defending champion Denver Nuggets looked unstoppable when they opened the season on an 8-1, but things have gotten a whole lot tougher lately with Jamal Murray sidelined. The Nuggets entered Monday on a two-game losing streak and have, ultimately, lost three of their past four games. Still, a road trip to face the woeful 2-12 Detroit Pistons, on a 11-game losing streak of their own, seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back on track.
That’s not exactly how things played out, at least initially. Early in the first half, Nuggets coach Michael Malone was unhappy with the officials after two Isaiah Livers free throws and complained aggressively. He immediately started walking off the court afterward, as if he expected to be ejected for it.
Winning without your head coach is hard enough, now imagine trying to win without your MVP. Nikola Jokic, who had not attempted a free throw in 15 minutes of play, believed he got fouled by the Pistons. When he complained to the officials, he, too, was thrown out of the game.
The Nuggets have complained about the way Jokic is officiated quite a bit in recent seasons. Jokic, who entered Monday averaging 28.8 points per game so far this season, is averaging only 6.2 free throw attempts per game. He got to the line only 10 times combined in Denver’s last two losses, and after the frustration of the early portion of this game, Jokic decided he’d had enough.
The Nuggets and Pistons were tied when Jokic was ejected, and, ultimately, one could argue that his absence was a positive. The Nuggets would up winning the game, 107-103, and they did so without Jokic, Murray or Malone. That’s gotta be a confidence boost for a bench that has been drawing criticism for years. And if the ejections force officials to reconsider the way they handle Jokic and the Nuggets? That certainly wouldn’t hurt either.