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Was Nikola Jokic’s push of Enes Kanter cheap or just playoff basketball?

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets - Game Two

DENVER, COLORADO - MAY 01: Enes Kanter #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers ties up with Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets after a free throw in the fourth quarter during Game Two of the Western Conference Semi-Finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center on May 1, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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It’s the playoffs and everyone is trying to manipulate the referees to get calls down the line. It’s about planting seeds in the minds of referees.

Enter Portland’s Enes Kanter.

Was that a cheap shot?

Portland coach Terry Stotts unsurprisingly thinks it was,
via NBC Sports Portland.
“Yes, I have seen it and I think it was uncalled for,” Stotts said Saturday when asked if he’d had a look at it. “I don’t know if the league will review it or not but I certainly didn’t approve of it.”

Equally unsurprisingly, Denver coach Mike Malone sees it differently. Via ESPN:

“Normal play,” Malone said. “I think Terry is off base there. Personally, I don’t think it was anything malicious. Just like some of their screens in the first two games, I don’t think there was anything malicious to it -- with Kanter getting tossed into Torrey Craig. This is the playoffs. We’re all big boys, let’s go out and play the game accordingly.

“I have known Nikola Jokic for four years,” Malone said. “He doesn’t have that kind of personality, he doesn’t have that DNA gene where he’s going to go out there and make non-basketball plays and try to hurt anybody or do anything that is beyond the limits of what is sportsmanship and what is not sportsmanship. So I would definitely not agree with Terry’s assessment.”

I’ll add these three thoughts.

Kater pulled back on this and did not go in to try and get the offensive board, which helps sell the call. If Kanter had pushed in to get the rebound, what Jokic did was just going to create space for himself to get the board.

It’s the playoffs. Things get physical.

This is all about trying to gain an edge in Game 4 on Sunday. Just like all the Rockets’ complaining about landing space was after Game 1 of that series was about trying to gain an edge. Nothing more.