Posted on: April 29, 2009 8:19 pm
CHICAGO -- I think the NBA got this exactly right. I think.
I'm not going to waste valuable time debating Dwight Howard's suspension; that one was easy. "Pretty cut and dried," Stu Jackson, the NBA's vice president of operations, said on a conference call with several reporters Wednesday afternoon. Jackson also revealed a piece of information that proves that NBA's system of reviewing every call and non-call actually works. None of the three officials actually saw Howard's lightning quick but blatant elbow that hit Samuel Dalembert in the head. Had they seen it, by rule it would've called for an automatic ejection. Since they didn't, that's why no flagrant foul was called, and it's why Howard wasn't ejected. Upon review, the NBA got that one right. But even the WWE could've gotten that one right.
The interesting case is Rondo, and it provides an especially delicious opportunity for debate. Not only did it happen on the same night, but it also provided another fertile debating point. This was a little man fouling a giant man, whereas the Howard incident was a giant picking on someone his own size.
Technically, the relative size of the players involved in a potentially flagrant foul shouldn't matter. But referees are human, and humans have to make decisions based on their experience and their ability to see something happening extremely fast. The most interesting point Jackson made came when he described the criteria for determining whether a foul crossed the line between a hard foul and a flagrant foul.
"In terms of the criteria that we use to evaluate a flagrant foul, penalty one, generally we like to consider whether or not there was a windup, an appropriate level of impact, and a follow through," Jackson said. "And with this foul, we didnt see a windup, nor did he follow through. And so for that reason, we’re not going to upgrade this foul to a flagrant foul, penalty one."
Jackson described Rondo's foul on the Bulls' Brad Miller -- an open-handed blow to the head which resulted in Miller missing a game-tying layup with two seconds left in overtime Tuesday night -- as a "basketball play." He said the league determined that Rondo was "going for the ball after a blown defensive assignment by the Celtic team." That's exactly what I saw at the game. Now I'm in Chicago, and when the local newscasts show the play in frame-by-frame slow motion, it drives home the point that Rondo realized he had no play on the ball and simply hit whatever he could -- that being Miller's face.
He didn't do it maliciously, and as Jackson said, he didn't wind up as if throwing a punch, nor did he follow through on the blow. Whereas Howard's play was blatant, Rondo's was borderline. It could've gone either way. The league made a reasonable choice, and backed its on-floor officials on this one. This is an important point. Had the foul been upgraded to a flagrant, it might've opened the door for the Bulls to file a protest because they would've been entitled to possession after the flagrant. The last thing this crazy and suddenly violent series would need is a protest. But more to the point, the officiating crews for Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) are going to have to have control of the action. There cannot be any outside influence hanging over the action on the floor, or chaos will ensue.
I don't know -- and Jackson didn't say -- if that factored into the league's decision. I also don't know for sure if the league made the technically correct decision on Rondo. But it made the right one.
Posted on: April 29, 2009 1:57 pm
David Stern was in attendance at a recent game I covered, one involving Dwight Howard, who has since transformed himself from NBA golden boy into Tree Rollins.
Before Game 4 of the Magic-Sixers series in Philadelphia, Stern did one of his breezy, folksy town hall meetings with the media. I say breezy and folksy and town hall because Stern elected to stand and pace while holding a microphone instead of sitting on the dais. (Maybe he was getting his Obama on.) But at one point, the sunshine Stern was trying to spread about his NBA – which is enjoying a mostly thrilling postseason thus far – was interrupted by Thunder and lightning and the famous wrath of the league’s underlord.
Stern was asked to comment on Erick Dampier’s verbal threat to put Tony Parker “on his back” the next time he drove to the basket. Stern’s smile was quickly replaced by a scowl, and there was no mistaking his seriousness.
“Our game’s doing great because we opened it up,” Stern began. “I, at least, have worked to make sure that violence – which is always a risk – doesn’t occur. That’s why we have flagrant fouls. That’s why we have flagrant twos. That’s why, if you throw a punch, you’re out. If you leave the bench, you’re out. The result of all of that is to tamp things down.”
Then came the money quote that is so relevant after Tuesday night’s acts of violence by Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo.
“If someone commits a wanton act of violence – and you could define that any way you want to – then someone else is going to come to the defense,” Stern said. “The pushing and shoving turns into whatever. Actually, we try to sell ourselves as a family sport that you’d be proud to bring you kids here to watch the game. And I don’t think that’s something that I particularly want to sell.”
And so there you have it. The commissioner has spoken. Now what actions will those words translate into with respect to Howard and Rondo?
Howard should be suspended for Game 6 of the Magic-Sixers series in Philadelphia Thursday night for throwing an elbow haymaker at Samuel Dalembert. His actions fit the most important part of the threshold for suspension: Howard’s flailing elbow was not natural or pertaining to the completion of a basketball-related play. It was an elbow aimed at an opponent’s head after the play was over, plain and simple. The Rondo foul on Brad Miller, which drew blood but no flagrant call with two seconds left in yet another overtime between the Celtics and Bulls, is a more difficult call. Unlike Howard, Rondo was involved in a basketball play. He was trying to stop an opponent from converting a game-tying layup at the most crucial juncture of a playoff game. (The playoff part shouldn’t matter; the rules are supposed to be the same regardless of the game’s significance.)
The fact that Rondo was trailing the play and appeared to have no chance to reaching the ball will be something for the league to consider. But in the end, Howard should be suspended and Rondo shouldn’t because you cannot expect a player in the Heat of battle to make a split-second decision as to whether his outstretched arm is long enough to reach a ball that is about to go into the basket. Whether Rondo could reach the ball or not – and it turned out he couldn’t – isn’t the threshold for suspension. It was his intent – such that we can determine – that matters. And in that situation – or any situation in which a player is trying to stop a layup and/or prevent a three-point play – we have to evaluate the player’s actions in the context of the play. On this play, Rondo’s objective was to try to reach the ball and prevent his opponent from scoring. The alternative – pulling back and not contesting the layup – would’ve been tantamount to letting the opponent score.
So Stern can remain consistent with his comments before Game 4 of the Orlando-Philly series by suspending Howard and not Rondo. Just remember: Never underestimate this commissioner’s commitment to curtailing violence. Just listen to his words, and watch his actions, and see if you think they match up.
Posted on: April 21, 2009 12:18 am
BOSTON -- Rajon Rondo sought out Doc Rivers before Game 2 of the Celtics' first-round series against the Bulls Monday night. He had more questions on his mind than the inquiring minds who've been quizzing Rivers about Kevin Garnett's knee.
"What do you need me to do?" Rivers said Rondo asked him. "What can I do defensively? What should I do offensively? Am I dribbling too much? Am I not getting the ball to Ray? Am I not getting the ball to Paul? Are we not posting enough?"
"They were great questions," Rivers said. "They were terrific questions. He’s a student of the game, and I love when he does that. We communicate a lot like that. It was just, in my mind, so many (questions) that we needed to free his mind. Hell, there’s no way I could have played with all those freakin' questions in my head. And I screwed it up by giving him answers."
Rivers walked away from his pep talk with Rondo and was worried that he'd made the situation worse by entertaining his point guard's inquiring mind. A point guard can't be asking questions before the most important game of the season. He has to just play.
"So when I walked into the locker room, I told Rondo that he had the keys to the team and just go play and stop asking me questions," Rivers said. "Just go play. This is your team; go play. I thought that first seven minutes was the best I've ever seen him play."
We will remember the last 4 1-2 minutes of the Celtics' 118-115 victory over the Bulls, which tied their first-round series at 1-1 heading to Chicago. How could you forget the last 47 seconds, with two crazy jumpers by Ben Gordon and two equally crazy 3-pointers by Allen -- including the game-winner with two seconds left?
Who knew Rondo's psyche was even more damaged than anyone thought after what rookie Derrick Rose did to him in Game 1?
Rondo put the doubts and questions aside and came out relentlessly and fearlessly attacking the basket, as if sending a message to Rose. It didn't hurt that Rose picked up two fouls in the first 3:11. When I looked at the stats at the 7:27 mark of the first quarter, it was 18-6 Boston. The Celtics were 8-for 14 from the field, while the Bulls were 2-for-7. What jumped out was that the Celtics had gotten off twice as many shots. That was all Rondo.
"We had a play drawn up to start the game," Rivers said. "We never got to it until six minutes into the first quarter, because every basket was a transition basket – make or miss. And that’s how we want to play."
When you looked at the box score when it was over, you realized that both teams shot 50 percent. But the Celtics had 96 field-goal attempts to the Bulls' 80. And you remember that the first 4 1-2 minutes were just as important as the last 4 1-2 minutes. Just not as memorable.
Posted on: March 27, 2009 11:08 pm
ATLANTA -- After a brutal stretch of eight games in 13 days -- six of them on the road -- have the Celtics survived the brunt of their injury woes? Or is it just getting started again?
The Celtics' nightmare stretch -- they were 5-3, including Friday night's 99-93 victory over the Hawks -- ended on the same night Kevin Garnett's comeback from a sprained right knee was aborted. Doc Rivers said before the game Garnett's absence could be extensive, and nobody seems to be able to say where the tipping point is between getting healthy for the playoffs and not having enough time to get ready for them.
"I don't know what point that is," Rivers said. "It's just uncharted waters. We just don't know the right answer there. The great news for us is that we have a ton of practice days. And even if we make the decision to rest him longer, we can still use him in some of our skeleton offense and defensive stuff in practice to get him time, where before he couldn't even be on the floor. Coming back this time, he had no practice time, nothing. Coming back this way, if we did do that, at least he could come back with practice under his belt and timing under his belt."
With Rajon Rondo still limping with an ankle injury, Garnett out of the lineup again after a four-game cameo, and Leon Powe on the shelf with a sprained right knee, the only signs of optimism come from the schedule. The Celtics are straring at five straight home games and only two more road games -- and none until April 12.
"Hopefully, he can just be healthy for the playoffs," Paul Pierce said. "That's the main concern."
That's been easy to say for a while now, because the playoffs are far enough way. As they get closer, the concern heightens. If the champs are going to defend their title, they need to be whole.
"Honestly, I don't think that way," Ray Allen said. "Whoever lines up on the floor, that's who we have. ... I just want him to get healthy. When Kev gets back, that's when we'll focus on having him out there. But right now, we don't have him."
Posted on: March 27, 2009 7:10 pm
ATLANTA -- Though he didn't crack the 20-minute mark in any of his four games back from a right knee injury, Kevin Garnett still isn't right. So Celtics coach Doc Rivers pulled the plug on KG's comeback Friday night and didn't rule out shutting Garnett down until the final two or three games of the regular season.
"We think about all that, yeah, for all of them," Rivers said before the Celtics played the Hawks, who pushed the defending champs to seven games in their first-round playoff series last year. "We're going to make that evaluation and determination at some point soon, but we don't know yet."
Rivers said Garnett is experiencing soreness but nothing structural in the knee, and that he doesn't have anything scheduled with team doctors. But Rivers had no answers for why Garnett's knee hasn't responded to limited minutes during his four-game aborted comeback.
"It's uncharted waters," Rivers said. "We don't know where we're going with this right now. What we do know is that whatever it takes to get him to be 100 percent when the playoffs start, that's what we're going to do."
The Celtics carried an 11 1-2 game lead over Atlanta for the third playoff spot, so there's no reason to take any chances with Garnett or Rajon Rondo (ankle), who will play Friday night but will be watched closely.
"I would probably say if we're going to (rest Garnett), we're going to do it more than one day, but I'm not sure yet," Rivers said. "If he feels great (Saturday) then Sunday comes back into play, but I don't know. There's no reason to take a chance."
After the Atlanta game, the Celtics have eight remaining. If Rivers wants to shut Garnett down until the final two or three games, that plan would be complicated by the fact that Boston finishes the regular season with a back-to-back set at Philadelphia and home against Washington.
"I'm not concerned in the big picture," Rivers said. "I'm just going to make sure I don't have concern by doing it this way."