As soon as assistant Alvin Gentry saw Stoudemire approaching the incident, his eyes bulged wide and he ran him back toward the infamous "vicinity of the bench." He knew the Suns' All-NBA center had roamed too far.
|Big Shot Rob lays a big forearm into Phoenix's Raja Bell. (Getty Images)|
You might not agree with the league's judgment, but it's clear how they saw it.
Tim Duncan standing up in front of the San Antonio bench in the second quarter was deemed inconsequential because he didn't escalate things. Francisco Elson, despite feeling he was undercut by James Jones, didn't go running at him. Cooler heads prevailed.
Nash getting body-checked did provoke beef. Nash got up and charged toward Robert Horry. Raja Bell came right to his captain's defense, getting right up in Horry's face and drawing the contact that ended up costing the Spurs forward an extra game. Stoudemire and Diaw wandered over in the direction of a melee, and that's precisely what the league doesn't want. You can't have a brawl without multiple players.
The Phoenix organization has a right to be disappointed. The Suns were hoping the NBA would let them field a frontcourt on Wednesday night, continuing its current trend of leniency that Baron Davis and the Warriors were sure thankful for. Phoenix assistant Marc Iavaroni told a Phoenix radio station that the league would definitely be made aware of Duncan's actions, and added that the coaching staff did tell players on their bench to stay put should anything ensue.
The Suns knew that the action was getting testy. Stoudemire and Diaw, despite not hearing their coaches' warnings, know the rule about leaving the bench. They let their emotions get the best of them and broke it.
Is the rule too harsh? Considering the effect it will have on the Suns in Game 5, it sure seems that way. But harsh is what works to avoid ugly incidents like the brawl in Auburn Hills, which has scared the league into a hard-line stance to ensure something like that never happens again. This rule preceded the Palace melee by 10 years, but that's when it was cemented in stone. Any hope of softening this rule went out the window on Nov. 19, 2004, regardless of Phoenix owner Robert Sarver's declaration that he'll petition for a change.
Duncan is simply lucky that Stu Jackson viewed Elson's incident the way he did, because he was guilty of leaving the bench. Bruce Bowen having to come get him is proof.
Jackson's ruling is a bummer, but it's fair. No one wanted to see Stoudemire and Diaw suspended for Game 5 -- outside of a few folks in San Antonio -- and the swing game in the best series of the 2007 postseason is being compromised.
The NBA really had little choice, though. You can't afford to be vague about rules like these.
And no, not suspending Duncan was not vague. There was no altercation on that play, and shelving him would've been over the top.
It's a tough break, but the Suns were dreading this news all day the way a kid dreads showing his parents that D-filled report card. You hope they might be lenient, but you know that's really unlikely.
As a result, Horry comes up clutch again.