The Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 113-96 on Monday night, Nov. 8. But that wasn’t the story of the game. With 2:39 remaining and the Nuggets up 111-94, Heat forward Markieff Morris put a hard foul on the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic. In retaliation, Jokic knocked Morris over from behind.
Nikola Jokic clobbers Markieff Morris from behind late in the fourth quarter and things get intense. pic.twitter.com/9RclknqIKB
— Bally Sports Sun: HEAT (@BallyHEAT) November 9, 2021
The reigning league MVP was ejected from the game for the aggressive move and Morris was assessed a flagrant 2 foul penalty. The usual fracas proceeded with players from the Heat charging at Jokic and others having to be held back by coaches and officials.
Let’s set the scene.
The Heat are among the more physical, if not the most physical, teams in the league. That is a part of #HeatCulture. They play up to the line and sometimes over it with their physicality, bumping and overall aggressive defensive play.
Down 17 with 2:39 left in the game, Morris wanted to stop a semi Nuggets break, so he elected to foul Jokic. A hard foul, which he admitted to on Twitter.
I love to see the hate! No doubt I took a hard foul which I always do but I’ve never hit a man with his back turned! Luckily we built different over here. I can take my licks and keep pushing. Joker 1 smooth 0 lol.
— Keef Morris (@Keefmorris) November 9, 2021
But Morris could’ve simply wrapped Jokic up with his arms, if he was giving a take foul. There was no need for the body check. Again that’s #HeatCulture and presumably a sign of “toughness.”
Jokic could’ve chosen not to react or not go after Morris from behind. That was wrong. But why do we do this thing where we want to punish the retaliator more severely than the instigator?
Morris’ action started the chain of events.
He had been physical all game with Jokic, as was most of the Heat team. Why that type of foul against Jokic in that moment? Perhaps he thought the white boy from Europe wasn’t so tough. How else would you explain Morris turning his back after that hard foul?
You know the saying. You don’t need to get ready if you stay ready.
The thing is, Jokic is from Serbia. That’s eastern Europe. He grew up at the tail end of a devastating war with bombings and other horrible tragedies. Those types of experiences likely make someone fairly tough minded.
Basketball is a physical sport. Primarily dominated by Black Americans, we feel a sense of ownership, and rightfully so. But too many Black players make assumptions about white players or non-Americans that aren’t necessarily true.
Remember Montrezl Harrell’s “b-tch-ass white boy” comments to Luka Doncic in the 2020 playoffs?
Luka Doncic, who was called a "bitch ass white boy" by Montrezl Harrell during Game 3 confrontation: "No worries. There’s a lot of emotions on the court, especially this is playoffs. Sometimes you say things you don’t want to say. He apologized. I respect that, so no problems." https://t.co/QHkZ4flVWf
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) August 23, 2020
We’ll never know the reasons Morris assumed he could get away with that type of physicality on Jokic with no retaliation. But it’s safe to assume if it happens again he won’t turn his back.
To be fair, you could say Jokic has a history of responding or being aggressive. Remember last year’s playoff series against the Phoenix Suns when he was ejected for a hard foul on Cameron Payne?
Following the game, Jokic owned up to his part in the altercation.
“It’s a stupid play,” Jokic told reporters after the game. “I feel bad. I am not supposed to react that way. … I thought it was going to be a take foul. … I think it was a dirty play. And I just needed to protect myself. I felt bad. I am not supposed to react that way, but I need to protect myself.”
“I don’t know who showed me the clip, and actually his head snapped back [after the shove], so I feel really bad. … It’s a bad move.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called Jokic’s play dirty.
“That was a very dangerous and dirty play,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the game. “Keef took a foul, and it was one of those fastbreak take fouls, and he did with his shoulder. You might deem that maybe as a little bit more than just slapping somebody, but after watching it on film, it was a take foul. That’s how I saw it. And the play after, that’s just absolutely uncalled for.”
Again, at that point in the game the take foul by Morris shouldn’t have been a body check. Plain and simple.
Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.
Tensions continued to boil postgame as Heat players were waiting in the hall for the Nuggets and Jokic.
Heat players were waiting in the hall for Nuggets players last night 😯 pic.twitter.com/UdInJbi0nr
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) November 9, 2021
By the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 9, Morris’ twin brother Marcus, who plays for the Clippers, and Jokic’s brothers were going at each other on Twitter.
Waited till bro turned his back smh. NOTED ✍🏾
— Marcus Morris (@MookMorris2) November 9, 2021
@MookMorris2 You should leave this the way it is instead of publicly threatening our brother!Your brother made a dirty play first . If you want to make a step further be sure we will be waiting for you !! Jokic Brothers
— Jokic Brothers (@JokicBrothers) November 9, 2021
This isn’t the first time the Jokic brothers have been involved in defending Nikola. In the aforementioned playoff series between the Nuggets and Suns, Nikola’s brothers were ready to come to his aid.
💀Jokic’s brothers were fr ready to beat Book’s ass pic.twitter.com/Ce9ntVNPUj
— Nikola Jokic Fight Club Leader (@CrankDatAllDay) June 15, 2021
The NBA will likely suspend Nikola Jokic for a couple games, and they may have to get involved and make sure the family members don’t continue this beef.
Nuggets and Heat next play Nov. 29 in Miami.