A day after Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford earned a flagrant-2 foul and an ejection for dropping an elbow on Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Matthew Dellavedova, the NBA found itself immersed in another controversial officiating decision.
During the Houston Rockets' Game 4 win over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals on Monday, Rockets center Dwight Howard avoided getting tossed for elbowing Warriors center Andrew Bogut in the face. He received a flagrant-1 foul for the altercation instead of a flagrant-2, allowing him to remain in the contest.
The discrepancy raised some eyebrows, like those belonging to Real GM's Danny Leroux, Milwaukee Bucks forward Jared Dudley and former NBA player Jason Collins:
You can judge for yourself.
Here's the play that got Horford ejected:
And here's Howard's:
If you only judged the two plays on the severity of the impact and damage potential, ignoring the wording of the actual rule, you'd probably deem Howard's the more egregious. But when the letter of the law comes into play—especially after the NBA specifically cited it in explaining the Horford ruling—it's impossible to understand how Howard avoided Horford's fate.
Here's the explanation for Horford's ejection (via the NBA Official Twitter account):
The first element of the offense is an "unnecessary and excessive forearm/elbow." Howard elbowed Bogut in a manner that, measured against Horford's play, was at least as unnecessary and excessive.
The second element is "above the shoulders." It would appear Bogut's face is above his shoulders.
That's it. Those were the grounds the league used to explain Horford's ejection. Apparently, that same justification didn't apply to the play involving Howard.
There's something to be said for allowing referees to use their discretion to avoid deciding playoff games by ejecting important players.
But if the league is going to cite specific language as the basis for being inflexible and then completely disregard that same language a day later, well, that's not going to make anybody happy.
If anything, Howard's play looked more like the one that got J.R. Smith ejected and suspended earlier this postseason.
Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick thinks a suspension may still be a possibility:
And NBA.com's John Schuhmann notes the league can still upgrade the violation:
According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, no upgrade or suspension will be forthcoming:
There are two ways for the league to handle situations like this: It can strictly interpret the rule, or it can allow officials leeway to ease off the letter of the law.
But it can't employ both methods to yield different results only one day apart.