In the aftermath of Sunday night’s 125-102 loss to the Jazz, Aaron Gordon offered perhaps the most forceful defense Nikola Jokic has ever received from a teammate regarding officiating.
“It’s crazy that Jok doesn’t get more free throws,” Gordon began. “Jok was 3 for 3 from the free-throw line. That’s unbelievable. … The fact that Jok was 3 for 3 from the free-throw line is just not even right. He’s fouled every play. Obviously, the refs aren’t going to call it every play. They’re all over his arms, they’re all over his body, they’re grabbing him. He’s just not officiated the same way as everybody else.
“It’s not right,” Gordon continued. “He’s the reigning MVP of the league, and he’s getting three free throws a game, still doing what he’s doing. But he needs more foul calls because they’re fouling. It’s not like begging, it’s not asking for something that’s not there. We’re just asking for him to be officiated like everybody else is being officiated because that’s not right. He’s being fouled all the time. He needs more foul calls.”
In 37 minutes, Jokic got to the free-throw line three times, despite battling on the interior with Rudy Gobert for most of the night. As a team, the Nuggets got to the line only eight times total. Utah, on the other hand, took 29 trips to the charity stripe.
It wasn’t like the Nuggets weren’t playing inside, either. They finished with 52 points in the paint, two shy of Utah’s total. And Jokic, who finished with a 25-point, 15-rebound, 14-assist triple-double, was at the heart of Denver’s offense.
After Jokic’s first basket of the game, he came down the court and tugged on his jersey to show the refs what to monitor. Later, he bear-hugged Gordon at halfcourt to indicate how Utah was playing him.
Frustrated but diplomatic, Jokic said he was trying not to engage the referees because when he has in the past, he’s either gotten a technical foul or ejected.
“I don’t even try to talk to them anymore,” he said.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone acknowledged he was fighting on his team’s behalf all night.
“They have a hard job,” Malone said. “It’s a physical game, but that number (the free-throw disparity) jumps out to me.”
When Gordon was asked if he felt Jokic’s unique style made him difficult to officiate, he reinforced his earlier point.
“He’s one of the most unstoppable basketball players in the world,” Gordon said. “If you officiated him the way that he’s supposed to be officiated, who knows what type of numbers he would put up … But that’s the way it needs to go. They’re wrapping him up, they’re grabbing his jersey, they’re smacking his arms on rebounds. All that. The same calls that everybody else is getting, Jok gotta get them, too. That’s the way it goes. He needs to shoot more free throws because he’s getting fouled.”