ORLANDO, Fla. -- Mo Williams emerged from the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room after receiving four stitches to his left eye, looking at times understandably wobbly. It's stunning he was even able to see out of it. Williams resembled a punch-drunk Leon Spinks. The only thing missing was the gap-toothed smile.
There were deep cuts over and under Williams' eye thanks to the meaty and free-wheeling elbow of Orlando Magic backup point guard Anthony Johnson. After Williams was hit in the face during the Magic's 99-89 win Sunday night in a Game 3 Eastern Conference finals foul-fest, he was motionless on the floor as Cavaliers players formed a circle around him. Some of them believed Williams was seriously injured.
"It looked pretty bad," Cleveland's Delonte West said of the cuts to Williams' eye.
When asked if it was a cheap shot, Williams didn't hesitate to answer: "Most definitely," he said. In fact, according to Williams, this is the second time in this series Johnson elbowed him. The first instance, Williams claimed, happened in Game 2.
When asked if it was a dirty play, LeBron James also didn't hesitate. "I think it was," he said. "The foul was called and he continued to swing elbows ... it's uncalled for in this game."
Williams was clearly angry over the elbow (elbows?) and if anyone believes the Cavaliers are intimidated by the rough stuff, they're wrong. Williams made the bold statement -- one he might regret -- that the Cavaliers are giving the Magic "too much respect." Translation: The Cavaliers should be winning this series, in his mind, not the Magic.
As for Johnson, Williams added, in one of the quotes of the year, "I could care less about Anthony Johnson. He plays 12 minutes a game." The elbow came as Johnson was pushing hard to the basket in the first half with Williams in pursuit when Johnson's elbow suddenly imitated a windshield wiper, cheap-shotting Williams.
Johnson was hit with a flagrant foul, Williams hit the floor, and the Magic took another hit to their reputation as a clean-cut franchise playing in the shadow of Mickey and Minnie.
|Mo Williams took a heavy shot from Anthony Johnson in the first half. (AP)|
The Magic have earned a 2-1 series lead because they've out-hustled and out-played the Cavaliers but overall the team isn't marching to the Finals with exactly a lot of class.
No, the Magic aren't nearly as bad the Bad Boys from the 1980s or the Oakland Raiders from, well, whenever, or any other team from any other sport with a reputation for nefariousness. Nevertheless, this team is starting to cross the line from gritty to dirty. If you can't see that then you're either Dwight Howard's cousin, a Magic fan or you don't know basketball.
In Orlando's series against Philadelphia, the NBA suspended Howard for Game 6 after his nasty elbow to the face of Samuel Dalembert. In that series Hedo Turkoglu was ejected as well.
Against Boston, Rafer Alston was suspended for one game by the league after he smacked Eddie House upside the head as retaliation for House gawking and talking smack. J.J. Redick was tossed in one game in that series for arguing with officials.
In Game 3 of this series, Howard picked up his fifth technical foul of the postseason. He shoved Ben Wallace and then mouthed off to referee Joey Crawford. It was another case of the Magic losing their composure and if Howard gets two more he gets suspended -- again -- for one game.
So, in three playoff series this season the Magic have had two players suspended and two players ejected. The team's third series is just three games old and already we've seen one of those draconian, eye socket re-arranging elbows becoming all too familiar from the Magic.
Even if you think the Johnson play was close, at this point, the Magic don't get the benefit of the doubt.
Some of what the Magic are doing is just basketball. Players get ejected, elbows are thrown. Yet the Magic are making a habit, it seems, of committing some of the cheaper, more questionable fouls and acts.
Alston of course doesn't think his team is dirty but he did say that as the series gets more physical -- and it will -- the Magic have to play smarter.
"You can't just be out there grabbing, throwing elbows, smacking people upside the head," he said, half serious, half poking fun at himself. "You have to do things in a smarter way and understand -- put the onus on the referees to decide how they want to officiate the game and call the fouls."
If other teams were doing to the Magic what the Magic are doing, the Orlando organization and its fans would be infuriated. Because it's the Magic who are dishing elbows -- and winning while doing it -- Orlando fans are putting up with it.
Johnson's foul on Williams was particularly absurd and unnecessary. Williams wasn't a threat in any way.
What the NBA has to be careful about is this series devolving from something that has been stunning and elegant to watch into something more guttural. In Game 3 there were 58 fouls and 86 free throws. This series can get ugly real quick.
Be careful, NBA, you've gotten your once tattered image back. Don't mess it up now.
As for the Cavaliers, they might want to borrow a few helmets from the Browns.