In a tense showdown on Christmas Day, the Denver Nuggets edged past the Golden State Warriors with a 120-114 victory, but the game's aftermath buzzed not with the thrill of the win, but with controversy over officiating and the use of free throws.
Central to this debate was Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets, who astonishingly made 18 free throws without a miss, setting an NBA record for the most free throws made on Christmas Day, and tying for the second-most in any Christmas Day game.
The Warriors, though not overtly critical of Jokic’s individual performance, expressed their dissatisfaction with the broader state of officiating in the NBA. Warriors' coach Steve Kerr voiced his concerns, lamenting what he perceives as a trend towards undermining defensive play in favor of offense.
“We are enabling players to B.S. their way to the foul line,” Kerr stated, underscoring his frustration with what he described as a “parade to the free throw line” that detracts from the game’s enjoyment.
Jokic's Aggressive Strategy
Jokic, in response, clarified that his focus remains on aggressive play rather than deliberately drawing fouls. However, Warriors' star Stephen Curry pointed out the inherent advantage players gain by ensuring the referees note the contact, even if it means exaggerating it slightly.
“It does cater to the guys who can sell calls,” Curry remarked, calling for consistency in officiating to maintain a balanced game. Meanwhile, Nuggets' guard Jamal Murray defended the tactic of 'selling' calls, differentiating it from flopping.
He even suggested that Jokic, the reigning Finals MVP, deserves more calls given his performance and playing style. The game itself saw a marked shift in the third quarter when Jokic, after a relatively quiet first half, ramped up his aggression resulting in 10 successful free throw attempts.
Jokic’s strategy of intensifying physical play to compensate for missed shots paid dividends, contributing significantly to his 26-point total for the game. Denver’s focus on free throws was evident as they attempted 32 compared to Golden State's 23.
This strategy, coupled with an effective defense that limited Curry to 18 points and Klay Thompson to nine, was pivotal in their victory. The Nuggets also excelled in fast-break points, a departure from their recent performances, as highlighted by Denver coach Michael Malone.
This game, though a statistical marvel for Jokic, reignites the ongoing debate about the balance between offense and defense in the NBA, and the role of free throws in the modern game. As the season progresses, the impact of this discourse on the game's evolution remains to be seen.