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Steve Kerr speaks out on Nikola Jokić’s 18 free throws, his ‘disgusting’ officiating against the Nuggets

DENVER — Steve Kerr’s postgame news conference after the Golden State Warriors’ 120-114 Christmas Day loss in Denver lasted two minutes and two questions. After a general answer about how the team played, Kerr was asked about a more specific factor in the loss. Nuggets star Nikola Jokić was fouled 12 times and made all 18 of his free throws.

Kerr called out his own team’s fouling pattern all season. They are fifth among the 30 teams in the league. But his anger went elsewhere after the Nuggets’ loss – aimed at the league and a criticism of the sports leadership.

“I have no problem with the officials themselves,” Kerr said. “Across the league we have very good officials. I have a problem with the way we legislate off-side defense. That’s what we do in the NBA. The way we teach the officials, we allow the players to work their way up to the foul line.

Kerr got involved with the officials after a handful of second-half touch fouls on Jokić. Ten of Jokić’s 18 free throws came during a third quarter where there were 15 total fouls in 12 minutes.

“If I was a fan, I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the second half of that game,” Kerr said. “It was disgusting. It was just about getting the refs to make calls, but the refs have to make those calls because that’s how they’re taught. So I have a real problem with the way which we have legislated offside defense in this league. The players are really smart in this league. Over the last decade they have gotten smarter and smarter. We have allowed the players. They take full advantage of it and it It’s a parade all the way to the free throw line. And it’s disgusting to watch.

Kerr then finished his press conference before another question. Here is the sound clip.

These were some of the fouls that particularly lit up Kerr on the sideline and were the subject of discussion in the Warriors locker room after the game. All four came on during a competitive but fractious second half.

Here’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, a rookie, navigating a screen and colliding with Jokić as he dribbles toward the corner. Jackson-Davis committed five fouls. Kevon Looney felt that “only one he had was a real foul.”

The next one came a few minutes later, as the third-quarter clock was winding down. Jokić runs to the offensive side of the field after a throw-in. Dario Šarić meets him in half-court with both hands. Jokić places his arms in Šarić’s. A whistle and two more free throws are awarded.

The next two came late in the fourth quarter. Jokić hits Looney and loses the ball on the way up, but the referees determine that the contact made on the right side of Jokić’s body is a foul.

A few minutes later, a similar contact foul was called. Andrew Wiggins, who also committed five fouls, went to the free throw line to challenge Jokić on a catch and a floater. Their bodies collide in the air. A foul is called.

The Warriors generally felt good about how they defended Jokić. He made 1 of 8 shots and finished 4 of 12. But his 18 free throws tied a career high in attempts. It was a rare night for him. He is generally not an extreme volume free throw shooter. His 6.3 attempts per game ranks 18th in the NBA.

“It’s impossible to keep him when it’s like this,” Looney said. “He’s already a tough cover. He can already take any photo he wants. When you can’t really be physical or aggressive with him, you’re at his mercy.

Kerr didn’t mention Jokić directly in his response and it’s clear he’s making a broader point about the state of the league. It’s something that Kerr, the Warriors and the general public have complained about on and off since James Harden’s ascension in Houston. Chris Paul, a current Warrior, Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and others have faced these groans at different points in their rise.

“It goes to guys who can sell calls,” Warriors guard Steph Curry said. “When it’s physical, it’s difficult because it’s sometimes inconsistent on both sides. What is the tone of the game? Then from one game to another, it changes. On a night like this, it feels like there’s physical on one side and twitchy on the other. Then they get to the bonus and that changes the game. It’s not like we don’t make mistakes. I’m not saying that. But consistency is key to understanding how to defend.

The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Warriors. They are 15-15 and return to San Francisco for a seven-game homestand. The opponents: the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the Orlando Magic, the Nuggets, the Detroit Pistons, the Toronto Raptors, the New Orleans Pelicans.

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(Photo: Soobum Im / USA Today)

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