They have been waiting for over a decade, but the Phoenix Suns have finally reached the Western Conference finals with a resounding 4-0 series victory over Denver Nuggets.
Last appearing in the finals in 2010, the Suns’ 125-118 triumph over the Nuggets saw them complete the clean sweep and set up a winner-takes-all clash against either Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Clippers.
Despite their long wait coming to an end, the main talking point of the match wasn’t surrounding Monty Williams’ men, with NBA MVP Nikola Jokic ejected late on in the third quarter. A reckless swipe in an attempt to steal the ball from Cameron Payne saw him strike Cameron Payne in the face, with a melee breaking out in the aftermath of ‘The Joker’ being dismissed.
Jokic and the Suns’ Devin Booker, who claimed an impressive 34 points and 11 rebounds, had to be separated by members of each team after squaring up to each other following the incident. It was a disappointing end to what has been an incredible season for the Serbian, who last week became the lowest draft pick (41) to be named MVP.
At the time of Jokic’s ejection, he had acquired 22 points and 11 rebounds with Will Barton leading the Nuggets charge with 25 points.
Speaking after the match, the 26-year-old revealed his frustrations. "I wanted to change the rhythm of the game, I wanted to give us some energy, maybe change the whistle a little bit, so I wanted to make a hard foul," Jokic admitted. "Did I hit him, did I not hit him? We don't know. So I say sorry if I did because I did not want to injure him or hit him in the head on purpose.
“I thought honestly they would not eject me.”
That was a sentiment echoed by his coach, with Michael Malone adding, "I just didn't feel like it warranted a flagrant-2 ejection because he's making a play on the ball.
"There's marginal contact to Cameron Payne's nose I believe. I was shocked. I'm still a little bit shocked that they called a flagrant 2 and ejected the MVP on such a play.
"From my vantage point and watching the replay, I did not think it was a non-basketball play with malicious intent.
"I think it was a frustration foul. Nikola probably felt the last couple plays when he had the ball he had not received a foul call. And he went over there to take a foul. Which he has done plenty of times. A lot of players do that."
Speaking after his sides’ victory, Nuggets coach Williams also admitted his surprise at seeing the MVP given his marching orders.
He added, “I didn't really think it was anything malicious.”
In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks levelled their semi-final series at 2-2 with a convincing 107-96 win over the Brooklyn Nets as Giannis Antetokounmpo matched his own play-off high score with 34 points and 12 rebounds.