I've been a regular reader of Indy Cornrows, but have not posted or commented. However, I feel last night's game warrants a few thoughts. First and foremost, the Pacers played an awful game. For the last 6 quarters of basketball, the Pacers have not played winning basketball and if they continually play this way they do not deserve a chance to win. I completely agree with Larry Bird's sentiments that the Pacers went soft, in that they did not answer the challenge on the scoreboard like they did in Games 2 and 3. That said, what I saw from the Pacers was awful, but what I saw from the NBA was worse.
Last night's game was the biggest test for the NBA to prove that they do not have a horse in the race and they failed miserably at that. All one has to do is look at how the flagrant fouls were handled and it's obvious that there is manipulation from the top in terms of how the refs view who is important on the floor and who is expendable:
Tyler's Foul on Wade: Wade clearly attempted to sell this one, but I don't think he had to. Originally, I was screaming at the TV that Tyler played the ball (he did), and it was a hard foul and not a flagrant. Then I saw the blood. As soon as there was blood, that to me justified a Flagrant 1 (at least as far as the rules and player safety goes, and also consistent with previous rulings in the playoffs and this season). No problem with this one.
- Haslem's Foul on Tyler: This is where the NBA had their chance and they completely screwed the pooch. This is absolutely, without question, a Flagrant 2. By the rules it was excessive, there was no attempt to play the ball (jumping up in the air doesn't count), and there was a clear attempt to injure at the head. The fact that they called this a Flagrant 1 in-game, leaving Haslem on the floor to continue to participate and make a difference, is not only a spit in the eye of player safety, but a spit in the eye of NBA fans across the world. You have effectively indicated (along with Wade's Game 2 foul on Collison) that if the NBA has a ratings stake in your continuation throughout the playoffs, you are free to hurt whomever you like.
Danny's Ankle: This is of course where the floodgates opened. Once Danny went out, this game was effectively done as the Pacers never recovered. I have watched the replay of that particular play multiple times and I am of the strong opinion that LBJ "Bruce Bowen'd" Danny. Two reasons why - 1). The Heat have proven on multiple occassions, and especially in this series, that they are not willing to go on talent alone and will do whatever they feel necessary to injure a player on another team (again see: Wade's foul on DC, Haslem's foul on Tyler). 2.) For those claiming that LBJ was watching the shot I just have to ask - When does he ever do that? LBJ is the best basketball player in the world because he's usually 3 steps ahead. He knows when a shot is going in or not and he doesn't stand around watching it. He's either in transition for a quick bucket, or he's going to the hoop for a rebound. After the attempted block, he left his extended leg under Danny and waited. It's simple, it's effective, and there's no way to punish it.
- Pittman's Foul on Lance: This one is just so obvious, I almost don't know where to begin. I do not care if the game is a blowout and it's winding down. To allow a player to do this and then allow him to stay in the game for the duration of the time remaining is atrocious. Calling this and Haslem's foul Flagrant 1's and putting them on the same level as Tyler's hard foul on Wade completely diminishes the vulgarity and malicious intent of these types of fouls, and you leave the players wondering what it takes to call a Flagrant 2. The fact that they called this a Flagrant 1 in-game is just too transparent, and it leaves room for the NBA to not hand out further deserved suspensions, which would be the icing on the cake for those who believe that the NBA is, to a degree, rigged.
I truly hope that the Pacers can get back to winning basketball in Game 6 and at least force a competitive Game 7. That to me would be a "win" for this particular team, regardless of the outcome. But more so than that, I hope Stern took a good look at himself in the mirror this morning and figured out exactly where he wants his league to go. I certainly hope suspensions come for Haslem and Pittman, but I have no true expectations for it. If the NBA doesn't get its act straight, teams are going to target Superstars in order to even the odds, and that's a Pandora's Box that I don't think any of us want to see opened.