Does the NBA have a flagrant foul problem? Violent hits from Miami and Indiana during Tuesday night's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals might indicate so.
Before the following video analysis and review of each potentially flagrant foul that occurred in Tuesday's Heat-Pacers contest, it might be useful to consult the NBA Rules Book, which defines a flagrant foul as, "A flagrant foul is unnecessary and/or excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent whether the ball is dead or alive," (Rule 4-IV-g).
Rule 12-B-IV specifically differentiates the flagrant one vs. flagrant two foul:
Flagrant one: "If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary, a flagrant foul—penalty (1) will be assessed. A personal foul is charged to the offender and a team foul is charged to the team."
Flagrant two: "If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive, a flagrant foul—penalty (2) will be assessed. A personal foul is charged to the offender and a team foul is charged to the team."
Furthermore, basketball officials are trained to look for three phases to determine if unnecessary and/or excessive contact shall be deemed flagrant.
1) The Wind-Up: Did the player prepare for unnecessary and/or excess contact by winding up before delivering the blow? This element premeditation is absolutely vital, especially in calling a flagrant two foul.
2) The Delivery: Described as "an appropriate level of impact" by NBA Executive Stu Jackson, the delivery phase is the contact itself. On its own merits and without criteria one or three, was the contact unnecessary and/or excessive?
3) The Follow Through: Perhaps the most difficult component to adjudicate, the final phase, the follow through, is crucial in determining flagrant foul status. To this end, officials must call the entire play, and that includes officiating past the whistle. Many a fight has started due to a referee turning his or her back from a flagrant or even legal—yet hard— foul.
Now that we know what we're looking for, it is time to evaluate three tough fouls: one by Tyler Hansbrough against Dwayne Wade, the second by Udonis Haslem against Hansbrough and a third by Dexter Pittman against Lance Stephenson. For each play, a video link has been included.
Foul A (Video): Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough dropped his arms into Heat player Dwyane Wade's head and face as Wade attempted a drive to the basket early in the second quarter of Tuesday's Pacers-Heat game. Hansbrough's contact on Wade, in which he dropped his arms around Wade's head and neck, were unnecessary to completing this play. However, Hansbrough's delivery itself did not rise to the excessive level of contact required by criteria two. Called a flagrant one by the officials, this was a correct call.
Foul B (Video): In what some have suspected as revenge or retaliation for Hansbrough's foul on Wade, Heat forward Udonis Haslem issued a hard foul on Hansbrough nary one minute after Foul A. Haslem's contact on Hansbrough, in which he dropped his arms around Hansbrough's head and neck, were unnecessary to completing this play. However, unlike in Foul A, the level of contact perpetrated by Haslem did rise to the level of excessiveness. This foul satisfies criteria one, the wind-up, as Haslem prepares for the excessive contact as he jumps to meet Hansbough. This foul also satisfies criteria three, as Haslem completes the excessive action after contact and separation. Called a flagrant one by the officials, this was an incorrect call.
Foul C (Video): Miami's Dexter Pittman executed a forearm shiver into Pacers player Lance Stephenson's torso and neck area as Stephenson prepared for a rebound late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's Pacers-Heat game. This foul satisfies all three of the flagrant foul criteria and was both unnecessary and excessive. Pittman clearly prepares for the contact by running toward Stephenson, delivers severe elbow contact and continues engagement after contact during the follow through phase. Was this retaliation for a taunting choke signal made by Stephenson earlier in this series? Called a flagrant one by the officials, this was an incorrect call.
Though fines and suspensions loom large during the NBA playoffs, there is a good chance Haslem and perhaps Pittman will receive punishment, either from the league in the form of discipline of from Indiana in the form of on-court retaliation.
The three on-floor officials assigned to Game 6 of this Eastern Conference semifinals must maintain extra vigilance, as the events of Game 5 will predicate a measure of response when these two teams next meet.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.