PHOENIX -- Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was assessed a technical foul late in the second quarter of Game 4 on Sunday night for "deliberately" making contact with Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia during a bizarre courtside incident as the two-time MVP was attempting to grab the basketball from Ishbia's hands to start the next play.
The scene occurred with 2:36 remaining in the second quarter of Phoenix's 129-124 win over Denver that tied the Western Conference semifinals at 2-2, as Suns forward Josh Okogie went flying toward the courtside seats, where Ishbia sits across the baseline from the Phoenix bench.
As Ishbia went to check on the Suns player while holding the basketball, Jokic, as he often does during games, rushed over to grab the basketball quickly so the Nuggets could start their offensive possession; Jokic noted later while speaking to reporters that Okogie was still down, meaning there was potential for a "5-on-4" Denver advantage.
When Jokic tried to take the ball away from Ishbia, it flew backward into the crowd. While Jokic stood there asking for the ball back from another fan, his left forearm made contact with Ishbia's chest.
Ishbia, a former Michigan State walk-on basketball player who was part of the Spartans' 2000 national championship team, fell backward into his seat with his arms up and an incredulous look on his face. Jokic was assessed the technical foul for what crew chief Tony Brothers deemed as a deliberate shove.
The NBA, which will likely review the incident, did not immediately respond Sunday night when asked if Jokic, the two-time back-to-back MVP, could face a suspension and/or a fine.
"One of the fans was holding the ball, Jokic came to get the ball, grabbed it away from the fan," Brothers told a pool reporter after the game. "Then after that, he deliberately gave him a shove and pushed him down, so he was issued an unsportsmanlike technical foul."
Brothers, in explaining his decision not to eject Jokic, noted that the center "didn't just run over and hit a fan."
"There was some engagement, so I deemed the technical foul the appropriate penalty," Brothers said.
Jokic said he was simply trying to retrieve the ball quickly so he could start the next play and that he was attempting to get Ishbia off him.
"[Brothers] told me I was elbowing the fan," Jokic said. "But the fan put the hand on me first. So I thought the league's supposed to protect us or whatever, but maybe I'm wrong, so we will see."
When asked if he anticipates a suspension and/or a fine, Jokic asked why.
"But his hands [were] on me," Jokic explained. "So [the NBA] is not going to protect me? They're going to protect the fan? Not me as a person; I'm talking about as a player."
Jokic was asked if he knew who the fan was that he tried to take the ball away from.
"He's a fan of [the Suns]. I know who he is, but he's a fan, isn't he?" Jokic answered.
"[Crew chief Tony Brothers] told me I was elbowing the fan. But the fan put the hand on me first. So I thought the league's supposed to protect us or whatever, but maybe I'm wrong, so we will see."Nikola Jokic
When told that it was Ishbia, the team's owner, Jokic replied that Ishbia was still seated in the front row courtside.
"He's a fan, isn't he?" Jokic said. "He cannot influence the game by holding the ball."
Denver coach Michael Malone defended his superstar.
"I think it's crazy that Nikola got a technical foul in that situation," Malone said. "He is going to get the ball, and some fan is holding on to the ball like he wants to be a part of the game. Just give the ball up, man."
When asked if the fan being Ishbia made any difference, Malone replied, "I don't give a s---. I really don't care."
Ishbia told The Associated Press at halftime that he was "fine" and more worried about the game than the altercation. He was back in his usual seats in the second half.
Ishbia has been the Suns' owner for only a few months after purchasing a controlling 57% stake from Robert Sarver for $2.28 billion.
Suns star Devin Booker -- who finished with 36 points and 12 assists -- said he knew it was Ishbia in the middle of the fracas.
"He got us a point!" Booker said with a grin, referring to the Suns making the ensuing free throw. "He did his job."
It was an unforgettable night for Jokic, who scored a career-high 53 points while dishing 11 assists in the losing effort. He made 20 of 30 shots one game after posting a triple-double of 30 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists in the Nuggets' 121-114 loss in Game 3.
"He's playing out of his mind," Booker said.
In Denver's past two losses, Jokic is averaging 41.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 14.0 assists and 63% shooting. He is the first player in NBA postseason history to average a 40-point triple-double and 60% shooting in a two-game span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Now Jokic hopes he will be able to help the Nuggets win a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday night in Denver.
"I think it's an interesting series," Jokic said. "Hopefully, we can protect our home court. We were doing that [all] year; we did our job [in Games 1 and 2 in Denver]. They did their job [here]. So hopefully, I think in the end it's going to be an interesting game."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.