|Dwyane Wade was one of the victims during an ugly Game 5 between the Heat and the Pacers. (Getty Images)|
Game 5 is when this series got serious. And seriously dangerous.
The Miami Heat blew out the Indiana Pacers 115-83 in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series, but the victory was marred by three brutal flagrant fouls that will face review from the NBA league office and could cost multiple players their eligibility for Thursday night's Game 6.
The ugliness began with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Heat leading 29-25 when Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough was called for a Flagrant Foul 1 for giving a blow to the head of Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade on a drive to the hoop. Replays showed Hansbrough make a play on the ball but come up totally empty, swinging his right arm down hard on Wade's head and with his right hand slapping Wade's face during the folllow-through. Wade was slow to get up and was treated for a cut on his face but was able to continue playing.
Less than a minute later with the Heat leading 32-25, Heat forward Udonis Haslem was called for a flagrant foul for hitting Hansbrough in the face with both of his hands while swinging down in a failed attempt to contest a shot. There was no real attempt to play the ball and, given the timing and the specific player targeted, it was clearly retribution for Hansbrough's earlier flagrant. Hansbrough hit the ground but shook off the foul relatively quickly. Referees appeared to indicate that Haslem was assessed a Flagrant Foul 2, which would have meant an automatic ejection, but he was eventually assessed a Flagrant Foul 1 and allowed to remain in the game.
Finally, with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter and Miami leading 115-78, Heat center Dexter Pittman came flying across the key to hit Pacers guard Lance Stephenson in the neck or throat area with a dangerous flying elbow. Stephenson didn't fall to the ground but he grabbed at his throat and was doubled over in pain after the foul. The Palm Beach Post reported that Stephenson was undergoing medical testing after the game. To make matters worse, Pittman was caught on camera winking shortly after the foul, prompting speculation that Stephenson had been a specific target of the hit due to the fact that he directed a "choking" gesture towards Heat All-Star forward LeBron James earlier in the series. Pittman was assessed a Flagrant Foul 1 on the play.
The NBA defines a Flagrant Foul 1 as "unnecessary contact" while a Flagrant Foul 2 is "unnecessary and excessive contact." The NBA league office reviews all flagrant fouls during playoff games. During the review process, the league office can uphold the original call, rescind the flagrant foul, reclassify the flagrant foul (change it from a Flagrant Foul 1 to a Flagrant Foul 2), and fine and/or suspend the player for the foul.
According to league rules, the following factors can be used in assessing punishment for flagrant fouls: severity of the contact, whether the player wound up to commit the foul, the potential for injury, the severity of an injury inflicted and whether the foul led to an altercation.
Tyler Hansbrough Flagrant Foul On Dwyane Wade
The contact was hard but not atrocious. He came down with force but there did not appear to be a malicious wind up motion. However, the foul was to the head (of a star player no less) and it drew blood before leading to a retaliatory act. This was on the borderline between a Flagrant Foul 1 and a Flagrant Foul 2 as the contact was clearly unnecessary but not overly excessive.
Verdict: Hansbrough should draw a fine and possibly a one-game suspension.
Ken Berger: Flagrant-1 will stand, no upgrade and no suspension.
Matt Moore: 1-game suspension. Hansbrough made contact with the head and the "reckless" description under the rules puts him in suspension territory.
Royce Young: 1-game suspension. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't give Hansbrough anything, but given the recent history with these teams, he needs a game.
Udonis Haslem Flagrant Foul On Tyler Hansbrough
The foul was malicious and it was not a basketball play. It was clearly a retaliatory act and a blow to the head. There was a wind-up motion. This should clearly be upgraded to a Flagrant Foul 2 as it was both unnecessary and excessive.
Verdict: Haslem should draw a fine and a one-game suspension for the foul.
Ken Berger: Should be upgraded to Flagrant-2, with a suspension for Game 6. It was not a play on the ball, it was a two-armed play on Hansbrough's face -- and the league will consider the retaliation factor.
Matt Moore: 2-game suspension. Haslem wound up and followed through, and didn't disguise the fact he wasn't making a play on the ball enough. Considering severity of contact, that has to be two games.
Royce Young: 1-game suspension. Haslem was clearly responding to Hansbrough's foul and didn't hide it real well. He should've been given a flagrant two on the spot, and a one game suspension.
Dexter Pittman Flagrant Foul On Lance Stephenson
The foul was malicious and it was not a basketball play. It had the potential to cause serious, serious injury and appeared to be a motivated attack. The wink made things worse. This should clearly be upgraded to a Flagrant Foul 2 as it was both unnecessary and excessive.
Verdict: This was on the level of Andrew Bynum's clotheslining of J.J. Barea during the 2011 playoffs. Bynum was assessed a five-game suspension. Pittman should be assessed a similar suspension and a fine.
Ken Berger: No question in my mind it will be upgraded to a Flagrant-2, and I think he could face longer than the automatic one-game suspension. My initial impression is that it was worse than Bynum on Barea, because Stephenson didn't even have the ball. There is a legal way to stop someone from getting a rebound, it's called blocking out. My guess is, at least three games, maybe more.
Matt Moore: 15-game suspension. Pittman's was worse than Metta World Peace's elbow on James Harden because it was an intentional targeting of an opposing player to the head and neck. No place for it.
Royce Young: 15-game suspension and $75,000 fine. What Pittman pulled is about as bad as it possibly gets because a) it was obviously premeditated, b) it was completely vicious and c) it was around the head making it really dangerous.