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Nikola Jokic talks about exchange with Suns’ owner Mat Ishbia during Game 4

Two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the first half of Game 4 Sunday as he had an incident with Suns team owner Mat Ishbia.

Phoenix won the game, 129-124, before a sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center to even the series at 2-2 going into Tuesday’s Game 5 in Denver

“We got a point out of it,” Suns All-Star Devin Booker joked about Ishbia. “He did his job.”

Crew chief Tony Brothers broke down the incident in a pool report postgame interview, saying that Jokic took the ball from Ishbia and then pushed down Ishbia, who did not have the ball at the time Jokic pushed him.

“The ball went over into the corner there and one of the fans was holding the ball,” said Brothers talking about Ishbia as one of the fans. “Jokic came to get the ball, grabbed it away from the fan, then after that he deliberately gave him a shove and pushed him down, so he was issued an unsportsmanlike technical foul.”

It appeared Jokic was trying to retrieve the ball to quickly inbound it as Suns wing Josh Okogie dove into the crowd first on a Phoenix turnover. After pulling the ball out of Ishbia’s hands, Jokic extended his arm and made contact with Ishbia, causing the Suns’ owner to fall back into his seat.

“He told me I was elbowing the fan, but the fan put his hand on me first,” Jokic said during the postgame interview about the explanation he received from the referee as Ishbia had his hand on Jokic’s back. “I thought the league was supposed to protect us or whatever, but maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see.”

Jokic knows it was Ishbia, but described him as being a “fan” in that situation and felt Ishbia should’ve been kicked out of the game because he believes Ishbia was “influencing” the game.

“He’s a fan isn’t he?” Jokic said in addressing a question about the identity of Ishbia. “Sitting on the court, he’s a fan isn’t he? He’s a fan. He can’t influence the game by holding the ball.”

Nuggets coach Michael Malone described Ishbia as “some fan” holding the ball.

“I think it’s crazy Nikola got a technical foul in that situation,” Malone said. “He’s going to get the ball and some fan is holding onto the ball like he wants to be a part of the game. Just give the ball up, man. They deemed Nikola doing something that was excessive, I guess, and they gave him a tech, but I still don’t really understand it.”

When he found out, Malone bluntly cursed in reaction.

“I really don’t care,” Malone said.

May 7, 2023;  Phoenix, Ariz., US;  Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) has words with Phoenix Suns majority owner Mat Ishbia during the second quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at Footprint Center.

May 7, 2023; Phoenix, Ariz., US; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) has words with Phoenix Suns majority owner Mat Ishbia during the second quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at Footprint Center.

When Jokic took the ball away from Ishbia, the ball went into the air to a fan, who tossed it at Jokic, but Okogie intercepted the pass as he came out of the crowd.

At that point, security rushed to the scene.

The play was reviewed and Jokic was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Kevin Durant made the technical free throw. Brothers addressed why Jokic wasn’t ejected and just received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“I just deemed the technical foul the appropriate penalty for what happened over there,” Brothers said. “He didn’t just run over and hit a fan. There was some engagement, so I deemed the technical foul the appropriate penalty.”

Jokic was later asked if he was worried about being suspended.

“His hands are on me so they’re not going to protect me, they’re going to protect the fan,” Jokic asked. “Not me as a person. I’m talking about as a player. They can do whatever of course. They don’t care, but I think they’re supposed to protect players.”

A different fan was removed from the area after the incident, which happened with 2:36 left in the second quarter in the corner where Ishbia and Isiah Thomas were sitting.

Suns officials told The Republic “the attendee was relocated to diffuse the situation.”

The Suns led 63-61 at halftime.

The Suns had a fan incident at Footprint Center in the first round against the Clippers between a Phoenix fan and Clippers guard Russell Westbrook.

More: NBA investigating heated exchange between Russell Westbrook, Suns fan during Game 1

Ishbia was on the 2000 Michigan State national championship basketball team as a walk-on. He’s close friends with Isiah Thomas, a Hall of Famer and two-time NBA champion, who was seated next to Ishbia at Sunday’s game.

Ishbia became Suns team owner in February as he bought the Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury from Robert Sarver for a record $4 billion.

Have an opinion about the current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Nikola Jokic, Suns team owner Mat Ishbia have exchange in Game 4