Nikola Jokic seemingly gets away with foul on Zion Williamson to save Nuggets’ win over Pelicans

Some players are just impossible to officiate properly. They are so physically dominant that, in theory, a foul could be called on them on virtually any possession. There was simply no other way to defend players like Shaquille O’Neal than to just foul on every possession. That is where Zion Williamson is now. The New Orleans Pelicans forward lives in the paint, but if he went to the line every time he was fouled, he’d be shooting 20 free throws per night.

As it stands, he takes 8.6 per game, and none of them came on the biggest play of Wednesday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets. With the Pelicans down two, Williamson went up for a game-tying layup attempt in the final seconds. Nikola Jokic seemingly fouled him, yet no whistle came. The Nuggets escaped with a 114-112 victory. You can see the play below: 

Williamson was asked about the non-call after the game, and the second-year star said that he sees it as a matter of respect. 

“I gotta earn my respect,” Williamson said, via ESPN. “I’m only in Year 2. Gotta get a couple more years under my belt and hopefully things change with that.” 

While Williamson was restrained in his response, his head coach was a little more blunt. When discussing the play, Stan Van Gundy pointed to what he views as a league-wide issue when it comes to physical players potentially not getting all of the calls they are entitled to. 

“He gets to the free throw line a lot, and I’ve had referees say to me, ‘How many free throws has he shot?’ and it’s a stupid question,” Van Gundy said. “It doesn’t matter. Call it every single time he gets fouled. That’s all your job is … I do think strength gets punished in this league a lot more than quickness. If you’re able to go through contact a little bit, it’s called differently. If you fall down every time you’re hit or you flop, you get calls. That’s just the way it is. It’s not just Zion, that’s just the way it is.”    

Ironically enough Jokic probably agrees with Van Gundy. He has dealt with questionable officiating all season, and recently, he and Nuggets coach Mike Malone have drawn a string of technical fouls for pointing it out. Jokic attempts only 5.1 free throws per game, far fewer than Williamson. 

But it’s hard to deny the contact that came on this play. Jokic may not get enough calls, but he got a break on this one, and Williamson was punished for it. Maybe someday the officials will learn how to handle unique offensive forces like Zion, but sadly, they missed a game-changing call in this game.

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