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Stephen Curry played peacemaker to keep Jokic from going after Payton II

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors - Game Two

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 18: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors has words with Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during Game Two of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at Chase Center on April 18, 2022 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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It was not Nikola Jokic’s night.

Before his Nuggets dropped Game 2 to the Warriors by 20, before his frustration with the officials boiled over into him getting ejected, there was the moment a heated Jokic turned to go have words with Gary Payton II after Payton made a relatively innocent tap on Jokic’s behind, and Stephen Curry had to step between as peacemaker.

It started at the end of the first quarter when Payton blocked a Jokic second chance at the rim (which led to an Otto Porter 3-pointer going the other way).

The quarter soon ended, and as the players walked back to their benches, Payton passed by Jokic and gave him a tap on the behind, to which Jokic took offense. Curry played the peacemaker despite being considerably smaller than Jokic.

In the end, nothing happened. But that play epitomizes Jokic’s night, when he had 26 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t near enough — combine that with the perceived lack of calls going his way, and Jokic was heated.

Throughout a 48-win regular season, Jokic was able to lift this Nuggets team up and have them playing well above the level one would expect from a team whose second and third best players were sidelined with injuries (an effort may well win Jokic his second consecutive MVP). Through two games of the playoffs, against a Warriors team finding its stride again, Jokic’s efforts have not been near enough.

Jokic needs to be at his peak — and he needs his teammates to step up — as the series shifts back to Denver Thursday night, or the Nuggets’ postseason run will be very short.