After three wins with their new point guard, the Denver Nuggets took their first loss during the second tenure of Chauncey Billups last night. They also saw their starting power forward make his exit just a bit early, courtesy of an ejection late in the fourth quarter.
With less than a minute left and the Cavs leading by nine points, Anderson Varejao attempted to set a screen on Kenyon Martin. Martin responded by burying his left elbow in Varejao's face, and he was immediately assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected by referee Joey Crawford.
No complaints here about the officiating.
Crawford is no angel (just ask Tim Duncan), and he has a long-standing reputation of having a bit of a short fuse. But based on both Martin's behavior and the context in which it occurred, getting him off the floor was the right move.
Kenyon Martin is a player who has spent a career building an image for himself as someone who fashions himself a tough guy and isn't shy about playing dirty. The elbow to Varejao's mug wasn't a basketball play, and it seemed a clear attempt to punish the guy simply for having the audacity to set a screen. Further, the wheels were falling off for Denverat the time, and Martin had already earned himself a technical foul just 30 seconds earlier. He was clearly frustrated, and that manifested itself in the shot to AV's chops.
Beyond that, this game had already begun to get chippy, and it seemed Crawford wanted to nip that in the bud. LeBron James and Dahntay Jones had exchanged post-whistle shoves earlier in the second half, and the anger about an impending loss seemed to be building to a boiling point for the Nuggets. By getting Martin off the floor in a hurry after his unprovoked shot at Varejao, Crawford took a proactive step toward preventing any more physical trouble from breaking out between the two sides. Martin's move was just out of line enough to make a Flagrant 2 legitimate (albeit debatable), and the situation at the time put the nail in the coffin for his night.
Well done, Joey.