The NBA has evolved into a game where fewer punches are thrown, shoving matches are curtailed immediately and harsh penalties are given to players who consistently attempt to play the game beyond its physical limits. However, these playoffs have reminded us that physicality can never be completely removed from the game.
It's a better league now that guys aren't blatantly clotheslining each other, or singling out specific players to out-and-out maim.
However, in what we've seen from the first two rounds of the playoffs, at some point, the rules of the league advanced past the restrictions the players are able to place on themselves.
The result has been an endless parade of technical fouls, longer games and free throws coming earlier and more often in games.
It's not necessarily that referees are attempting to take over games (although at times it may feel like that), it's just that asking them to let as much go as some people would like would turn the league back into a place of casual donnybrooks.
Nonetheless, players seem to have gotten more physical with each other than in recent years, and the result is some very explosive moments and bursts of anger.
At times, it's been fun and even necessary, but there's a definite difference between physical basketball and plainly pushing and shoving.
By taking a look at some of the more physical moments of the first two rounds, we can see exactly what has gone down and what the difference between physicality and brutality can be.
Coming into the playoffs, this was totally expected. The only other matchup that should have yielded as much explosive physicality was the New York Knicks-Boston Celtics series, which had its moments but never got too out of hand.
The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies took each other on in the first round of the playoffs last season, and the result was one of the most physical series of the season.
This year, that physicality was exceeded.
We saw 21 technical fouls and two flagrants dished out over the course of just six games, and for the most part, they were all warranted.
There were constantly players locking arms underneath and contorting to the point where one of them had to fall down or knock the other guy down, bodies knocked into each other, and it eventually led to a wrestling match between Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin in Game 6.
Best of all, Randolph took a parting shot at the Clippers as Memphis moved on to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round (Via NBA.com):
They are tough. They’re tougher than the Clippers — Ibaka and Perkins — they’re tougher than Blake. So yeah, they’re tough and they’re strong.
Something tells me the relationship between the two teams isn't exactly healed after those comments.
One of the lamest and perhaps most comical sequences of events from the first round was Patrick Beverley taking offense to Reggie Jackson doing the exact same thing that Beverley did in Game 2 against Russell Westbrook.
Jackson saw Beverley coming across the half-court line to call a timeout, and just before he signaled, Jackson went in for the steal.
Beverley tried to show that he was a tough guy, shoving Jackson and being demonstrative just like Westbrook did after Beverley made contact with Westbrook back in Game 2 after a timeout was called.
I suppose this is one of those cases where if you can't take it, don't spend time dishing it out.
One of the earliest examples of simply bizarre actions in the playoffs came early in Game 3 between the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks.
With the Hawks up by a ton on the Pacers, David West took it upon himself to shove Al Horford to the ground from behind, leading to Jeff Teague retaliating and each team getting into a bit of a shoving match while the referees sorted it all out.
In the end, nothing was really changed because of West's shove. Indiana got blown out of the water regardless of the flagrant foul that he earned, and the Pacers didn't get any kind of emotional boost from his cheap shot.
These are the types of plays that are not only unnecessary, but they are the reason why referees feel the need to take control of the game.
It doesn't reflect well on them when a game gets out of hand and players start shoving and fighting, so they end up blowing whistles on more minimal contact.
If players didn't go for the home run type of physical acts, then it's likely that they could get away with more throughout the course of the game.
C.J. Watson used to be the Chicago Bulls' backup point guard. That job now belongs (in theory when Kirk Hinrich is healthy) to Nate Robinson.
For whatever reason, the two seemed to take after each other from Game 1 when things got a bit physical during the game.
However, early on in Game 4 (the thing did go into triple-overtime), Robinson decided to inch closer to Watson as he crossed half court, and then he just kept on inching.
Eventually, the two go tangled up and Robinson pinned Watson to the scorer's table. Why? Because Robinson is a weird dude and he easily gets under other players' skin. That's about the best reason I can imagine.
Lucky for the Bulls, Robinson and Watson were each given a technical foul and Robinson earned a personal on top of that. Otherwise, Chicago wouldn't have gotten 23 points from Robinson in the fourth quarter and likely would have lost the game, and possibly the series.
In another tale of guys who tends to get under other people's skin, Jason Terry and J.R. Smith got into a bit of a hot battle, much to nobody's surprise.
This, like Robinson's tangling up with Watson, is where physical play goes beyond banging bodies and crosses into the realm of fighting.
Late in Game 3, Smith puts his back into Terry to figure out where he is, and then he simply whirls around and tosses his elbow directly into Terry's neck and jaw.
After a review and seeing the intent and malice behind the swing, Smith was ejected and eventually suspended for Game 4, which the Knicks lost.
It's the only case so far, but this is one of those situations where physicality goes beyond breaking down the other team and actually hurts your own team, as it left the Knicks without a scorer off the bench for Game 4.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we had Mark Jackson on the lookout for phantom hitmen in Game 5 of Golden State's first-round series against the Denver Nuggets.
With Golden State shooting the lights out in the first four games of their first-round series against the Nuggets, Denver took a different approach to Game 5 facing a 3-1 deficit.
Instead of focusing on owning the paint defensively, they sent a more aggressive attack at Golden State's shooters, specifically Stephen Curry.
Curry took a few more fouls, Denver was a bit rougher with him and the game ended with a seven-point win in favor of Denver.
Of course, Jackson took offense afterward, claiming that Denver, "Tried to send hitmen on Steph."
None of what Denver did was over the top, and only a freak accident would have injured anybody. It was good, physical basketball from both teams.
Thankfully, JaVale McGee was able to give us all a laugh with his reaction to the allegation of dirty play after it all wrapped up.
Thus far, the most exemplary physical play has come from the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of their second-round series against the New York Knicks.
To get a sense of how they played in Game 1, this clip of Lance Stephenson knocking down a few shots, complete with Roy Hibbert ripping down rebounds and shedding bodies like Trent Richardson, will pretty much give you the rundown.
Defenders weren't afraid to go straight up on guys streaking to the rim, absorbing contact and forcing missed shots.
Not only that, they boxed out with ferocity, attacked rebounds like a dog on a bone and were generally relentless.
There wasn't anybody taking exception to a bit of a hard foul or an excessive box-out; they were just out there playing hard, playoff basketball.
And, to be completely fair, the Knicks did have a lot of solid physical play in Game 2 that was impressive; there's just not necessarily a succinct clip out there to sum it all up.
Of course, as an absolute contrast to what the Pacers and Knicks have been doing in the second round, we have the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.
Already in three games, we have 14 technical fouls, one flagrant foul and three ejections thanks to players picking up two technical fouls throughout the course of a game.
Joakim Noah has picked up three techs, and LeBron James, Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammad all have two apiece.
What's happened in this series is a complete degradation from effective physicality in Game 1 into blatant cheap shots, unnecessary shoving and complete overreactions to hard fouls.
It hasn't been one side doing more than the other, either. Chicago may be the more physical team, but Miami is getting back in with a few cheap shots here and there. However, once a few iffy plays go by, Chicago has gotten worked up and has completely overreacted, leading to more tension and more dirty plays.
The skirmishes have been fun to watch, but the actual basketball becomes so disconnected that the flow disappears, thanks in part to the referees' fear of losing control, but also the players putting them in the position where they have to make those calls.
While it's a fun series, they aren't playing physical ball—they're just one-upping each other in a tough-man competition.