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Frustrated Jokic ejected after flagrant foul for hitting Payne in face

Nikola Jokic was frustrated. Because he was down 3-0 in the series against the Suns, because he was trailing in Game 4, and because he thought he was fouled on the play before.

So Jokic did something he has done throughout his career: Taken a hard frustration foul.

However, this one got him ejected from an elimination game. Jokic swung at the ball but got a lot of Cameron Payne’s face on this play.

Jokic was ejected after the play was reviewed.

On the broadcast, Jason Phillips, the NBA’s vice president of replay operations, said there was wind up, impact, and follow through on unnecessary contact, which is the criteria for a Flagrant 2. To be clear, the intent of Jokic to knock the ball free, or the fact he hit the ball, does not matter under the NBA guidelines — the league does not want officials trying to guess the intent of players, so they legislated it out. It’s about results (or, at least it’s supposed to be).

The referees followed the league’s criteria on the call. Still, it was surprising to see them eject the NBA’s MVP in a potential closeout game. If this had been some random Tuesday in February, Jokic probably would have been ejected — although those calls are far, far from consistent across the league — however, in the playoffs, the officials tend to let things go more. They try not to impact the course of the game the same way.

Not this time. This ejection made the dream of a Nuggets come back that much more unlikely.

Whether you think this foul warranted an ejection or not, this is still on Jokic — he can’t take stupid frustration fouls in the second half of closeout games. He has to be smarter.

Jokic did go check on Payne before he left the court, this was not an intent to injure by Jokic.

That was Jokic’s first flagrant foul of any kind in 345 games.

Devin Booker picked up a technical foul on the play.