DENVER — With just under four minutes to go in the third quarter of Game 4 between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, everything changed.
The MVP Nikola Jokic was ejected after being assessed a Flagrant 2 foul and the Nuggets down eight points looking to avoid a four-game sweep.
Jokic's ejection was the icing on the cake in a series to forget for the Nuggets, ultimately falling in Game 4 on Sunday night by a score of 125-118.
On the controversial play Jokic missed a floating layup and in frustration swiped for the basketball from Phoenix guard Cameron Payne. His arm grazed Payne across the nose and the Suns' 26-year-old immediately collapsed to the floor. He was down on the ground for more than a minute before getting up and appearing to be fine.
Meanwhile, both teams scuffled and Jokic and Phoenix's Devin Booker exchanged words. While the TNT broadcast expected a Flagrant 1, after review the officials gave "The Joker" a Flagrant 2, which resulted in an automatic ejection.
“I just didn’t feel like it warranted a Flagrant 2 ejection because he’s making a play on the ball,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. “I was shocked. I’m still a little bit shocked they called a Flagrant 2 and ejected the MVP on such a play. I’m still trying to figure out the reasoning behind the ejection.”
Jokic hugged Payne on his way off the floor before heading to the locker room for the final time this season.
“I wanted to change the rhythm of the game. I wanted to give us some energy. I tried to make a hard foul. Did I hit him? Did I (not) hit him? We don’t know. I say sorry if I did because I didn’t want to injure him or hit him in the head on purpose," Jokic told the media postgame.
The MVP finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists before the ejection in just 28 minutes on the floor.
The Suns advanced to the Western Conference finals behind 37 points from Chris Paul and 34 points from Booker.
>> Video above: Nuggets head coach Michael Malone on Jokic's stunning ejection