NBA Playoffs: The NBA Needs to Get Serious and Suspend Haslem and Pittman
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The game was not really much of a contest. There's no debate about who played harder, smarter, better or won the mental and physical aspects of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It was all Miami.
One other thing was all Miami also. The two dirtiest plays of the game. There were three flagrant fouls called in the game. According to NBA rules and regulations, per NBA.com, flagrant fouls fall into two different classifications:
Flagrant "1" (FFP1) - unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent. The opposing team is awarded two (2) free throws and possession.
Flagrant "2" (FFP2) - unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. The opposing team is awarded two (2) free throws and possession and the player committing the foul is automatically ejected.
Tyler Hansbrough of the Indiana Pacers prompted the first flagrant foul. He committed a hard foul on Dwyane Wade as he was driving to the basket with 10:22 remaining in the first half. After Hansbrough made an attempt to stop the shot from going up, he followed through and raked his hand over Wade's face. The action that Hansbrough took was warranted, but the level of contact was not.
The Heat's Udonis Haslem committed the next flagrant foul. It took place less than a minute later with 9:26 remaining in the first half. Haslem's foul was a different type of circumstance. Hansbrough had squared up to shoot a mid-range jumper. Haslem charged him, but rather than attempting to block the shot or even hit Hansbrough's arms, Haslem instead simply raised both arms and swung them downward into Hanbrough's totally unprotected face.
It was about as flagrant a flagrant foul as one could imagine. There was zero intent to do anything but make direct contact with Hansbrough. The fact that it transpired less than a minute after Hansbrough's own flagrant foul left little doubt in the minds of many as to Haslem's intent.
Somehow, inexplicably, this foul was ruled a Flagrant 1. The refs had a chance to look at a replay and still allowed it to remain a Flagrant 1. That alone was enough to elicit outrage from notable sports columnists on Twitter.
What happened in the fourth quarter was far worse, though.
Late in the fourth quarter, the outcome of the game had long been decided. The Heat were absolutely blowing out the Pacers. With 19 seconds remaining in a 115-80 game, Dexter Pittman teed off on Lance Stephenson in a display that was more brutal than the elbow that netted Metta World Peace a seven-game suspension last month.
Stephenson was, of course, notorious for flashing the "choke" sign to LeBron James toward the end of the Miami Heat's Game 2 loss after LeBron had missed two free throws.
As an end-of-the-bench role player, Stephenson was unlikely to see much playing time in this series, barring a major blowout. Tuesday night's game was a major blowout, so Pittman found himself on the court with Stephenson as the game neared its conclusion.
Stephenson was running toward the basket in an attempt to snag an offensive rebound. He had his eyes fixated on the ball and the rim. Pittman had his back to Stephenson and was under the basket. (It's worth noting that Stephenson is 6'5", 220 pounds, while Pittman is 6'11", 285 pounds.) As Stephenson neared the basket, Pittman swung a violent left elbow, hitting him with a devastating blow across the upper chest and neck area.
Stephenson had no clue what was coming and could not brace himself for the impact. The collision was jarring. Stephenson surprisingly withstood the shot, keeping his balance after nearly going down, but he was clearly shaken up.
Once again, a Flagrant 1 foul was called.
What gives here?
The referees had access to replays. They can watch and re-watch all the same footage you can see in this column. They have access to better monitors as well.
Ejecting either Haslem or Pittman wouldn't have impacted the outcome of the game. A Haslem ejection might have impacted the margin of victory, but on this night, it wouldn't have been enough to save Indiana.
Now, David Stern and league officials have to do the right thing. Haslem's foul was wrong. There was far too much intent to hit Hansbrough and not nearly enough intent to play defense. A one-game suspension would be fair.
Pittman's foul was flat out thuggery. That's not to say Pittman is a bad guy or a violent man. This particular act was brutal, though. He should be suspended for five games. If Metta World Peace got seven for the elbow, Pittman should get five for the forearm shiver. The reason for the lesser punishment is not because Pittman's act is any less egregious or violent than Peace's was. It's because Pittman has no real previous record.
Either way, the league needs to clean this stuff up. While a game or several games played without the likes of Pittman or Haslem wouldn't have a major impact on a game or series outcome, if the league continues to turn a blind eye to that type of violent on-court behavior, eventually, someone that does play a critical role on a team will be victimized by it.
Most importantly, someone is going to get hurt—possibly severely.
Don't wait until it's too late; punish both of these guys now.
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