There are no two teams in the NBA today with the same level of tension and hatred toward one another as the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. The last two seasons have found the two organizations pitted against each other in several nationally televised games—matchups that have made headlines for reasons not always related to on-court performance.
Increasing the tension this year was Miami's acquisition of Ray Allen this offseason, not to mention the Heat finally winning the championship that had been eluding them.
Every time these two titans clash, the media has a number of highlight plays that show the emotion both teams have put into this rivalry. The media has added more fuel to the fire this year by highlighting what Dwyane Wade referred to as a "punk play" by Rajon Rondo at the end of Tuesday night's game (via Brian Windhorst of ESPN).
Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com reports that the Boston Celtics quickly struck back by suggesting the play was not malicious and simply a part of the game. Doc Rivers also highlighted a particular play by Wade that seriously injured Rondo during the 2012 postseason.
The debate will continue to build as fans and analysts pick which side of the heated rivalry they choose to support.
The Boston Celtics were down by 11 with under 20 seconds remaining in the game as Dwyane Wade drove to the basket for a layup. Rajon Rondo was beaten and decided he was going to make Wade earn the points the hard way by fouling hard to not allow him to take the shot.
If you watch close, the video evidence actually supports Boston's claim. Rondo tries grab Wade's shoulder in order to stop him from scoring on an easy layup, and barely puts any force into the foul. It even appears that Wade attempts to sell the foul as more than it actually was.
Rondo absolutely deserved the foul call, but his arm did not actually wrap around Wade's neck. Rondo intentionally grabbed him, but let go as soon as the whistle blew.
It may have been a bit much for a late-game scenario, but a shoulder grab doesn't exactly qualify as a "punk play". If Rondo had actually put more force into the foul or continued to follow through in an attempt to take Wade to the ground, that would be an entirely different level of aggression.
Wade, on the other hand, had a play that could be considered a "punk play" during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. In the play, Rondo knocks the ball loose from Wade as he attempted to penetrate and drive for a layup, leading to the two players getting tripped up.
As Wade fell to the floor, he appeared to wrap his arm around Rondo and pull him to the ground, which led to Rondo trying to stop the fall with his arm. As Rondo's arm connected with the floor, his elbow dislocated, putting the Celtics as an even bigger long shot to go all the way.
In a similar manner to Rondo's foul from this week, Wade was obviously not trying to hurt Rondo and probably wouldn't have pulled him to the ground if he knew he was going to be hurt. However, it was unnecessary to pull Rondo to the ground with him as he fell, just like it was unnecessary for Rondo to try to foul Wade with the game already decided.
In both cases, neither one of the players were looking to hurt their opponent.
However, Rondo's foul against Wade falls in line with an unwritten rule of basketball: Never let an opponent score an easy bucket if you can stop it. On the other hand, dragging a player to the ground with you is not considered common practice in the NBA.
In conclusion, neither player deserves to have their foul labeled a "punk play", but Wade actually had the worse play in basketball terms. It is more acceptable to stop a player from scoring a late-game basket with a hard foul, as long as you do not actually try to hurt them. Pulling a player to the ground, even with no malicious intentions, has a much higher likelihood of causing an injury—which it did.
It is likely that the debate will continue to rage on, but looking at the tape, it appears that Rondo's play was no more of a "punk play" than Wade's. And in reality, Wade's was probably worse.