Bobcats' Josh McRoberts' foul on Heat's LeBron James does not go unpunished: NBA fines him $20K, upgrades foul to flagrant two.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) April 24, 2014
Per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick, McRoberts said after the game that the play was unintentional:
"Just kind of got caught up in the air there," he said. "Came for the rotation. I'd have to see it. But I think, for me, in real time, he was coming pretty fast down the lane, he's a big, strong guy. I was just trying to stop him from, first, getting the shot up. But then I think I just kind of got caught up in the air. It probably looked worse than what it was."
Should it have been a flagrant?
"They didn't call it," McRoberts said. "So, no. It wasn't intentional, so, no."
Intentional or not, the league later decided the foul was definitely flagrant. That's not unusual when significant contact is made without a play clearly being made on the ball. An elbow to the throat would ostensibly qualify as precisely that.
The officials initially called a non-flagrant foul, however, preventing them from being able to review the play during the game.
Yahoo Sports' Dan Devine recapped the play in question:
With the Heat holding a 97-94 lead over the feisty Bobcats, James isolated up top against the defense of sophomore Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. James went left around a Chris Bosh screen, beat the step-slow trap by a hobbled Al Jefferson (who started despite straining the plantar fascia in his left foot in Sunday's Game 1 loss and stayed in Game 2 despite feeling it rip a little more in the early going) and headed toward the basket. As he arrived and elevated with Kidd-Gilchrist on his right hip, McRoberts slid over from the left corner, where he had been guarding Mario Chalmers, and leapt to meet LeBron in the air. In the process, he thwacked James in the throat with his right forearm, sending the reigning MVP to the deck holding his neck on the baseline and struggling to catch his breath.
According to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra believed a flagrant foul was in order after the game: "Asked if he got an explanation from referees why it wasn’t, Spoelstra said, 'Nothing that seemed rational.'"
The Bobcats will no doubt continue to play James physically. That's been par for the course among James' opponents all season long, a fact that's led to considerable consternation among the Heat. Charlotte probably won't be deterred from the physical play. The team is attempting to set a tone and discourage James from making strong drives to the basket.
The less certain variable is whether Miami will return the favor. It's a question Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick explored back in March in context of the "Bad Boy"-era Detroit Pistons. The advice coming from former greats Isiah Thomas and Rick Mahorn included the belief that there are better options than retaliation, that mental focus is often the best response to overly physical play.
Look for the Heat to respond accordingly. Putting aside the talk, their play on the court will continue to speak volumes about this team's resolve and the extent to which they're willing to tolerate aggressive contact. Intentional or otherwise, it's sure to light a fire.