Should Paul George face suspension?

Mike Zarrilli

If past precedent means anything, taking a few steps away from the bench should not prevent Paul George and Rasual Butler from taking part in the Pacers' most vital game of the season.

As should be expected in the midst of a potential win-or-go-home playoff game, things got a little heated between a few members of the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers near the end of the second quarter of Game 6:

As can be seen via video review, an elbow appears to be throw by Scott, Hill reciprocates with a few hard shoves, some random finger pointing and grabbing follows, and then, right on cue, the officials hand out the ceremonial and somewhat meaningless "double-technical" as punishment for the scuffle.

Given that both players managed to mind their manners for the remainder of the game, the aforesaid chippy exchange was of little to no consequence with regard to Game 6. However, what happened on the sidelines has some in the NBA community questioning if the shoving match may, in fact, have a very real impact on Game 7.

After watching all of the camera angles, it is noticeable that both Rasual Butler and Paul George take a few steps away from the team's bench during the on-court fracas. While it appears that PG took only a few casual steps past the sideline, Butler appears slightly more aggressive with his forward going motion. Fortunately, it appears that assistant coach, Popeye Jones leaps into action to prevent any of the players from actually leaving the bench and/or getting involved. As Popeye steps-in, Rasual, savvy veteran that he is, quickly stretches out his arms quite possibly to make it appear that he is holding his teammates back and means no malice.

Assumptions aside, CBS Sports cites the official league rule on leaving the bench, as follows with accordance to Rule 12, Section VII, Article (c):

"During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000."

Of course, the keyword here is "vicinity." Should a few steps away from the sideline actually count as leaving the "immediate vicinity" of the bench?

This, no doubt, is a gray area that the league office is going to have to sort out before an all-important Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That being said, if the NBA is in search of precedent, they need look no further than Game 3 between the Wizards and Bulls. According to the Washington Post, the league may have needed to make a judgment call on whether to suspend Marcin Gortat during a heated altercation between Nene and Jimmy Butler:

There was some debate as to whether Marcin Gortat left the bench area during the scuffle. Since the Bulls were charged with calling a timeout immediately following Nene’s basket, Gortat, along with all the bench players and coaches, would be allowed to come onto the floor. But should the NBA deem that Gortat was making his way onto the court before or during the moment the timeout was called, the Wizards center would automatically be suspended for one game, according to NBA rules.

In the fray's aftermath, Nene was suspended for the duration of one game for "head-butting and grabbing Butler around the neck with both hands and attempting to throw him down." Tellingly, Gortat was not fined or suspended.

Another, and perhaps more infamous, example from recent NBA history would, of course, be the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw from Game 5 of the 2007 Western Conference Finals. In this particular instance, the two, now former, Suns left the bench following a flagrant foul committed by San Antonio's Robert Horry against Phoenix's Steve Nash in the final minutes of Game 4.

In 2007, ESPN's Marc Stein reported that Stu Jackson (then VP of Basketball Operations) clarified the suspensions via conference call as follows:

"A precedent wasn't necessary here," Jackson said. "The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear."

"Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are."

Jackson added that Stoudemire and Diaw, in the league's estimation, were "about 20 to 25 feet away from their seats..."

A precedent may not be "necessary," but it is likely a comfort to the Pacers, if, in fact, they are anticipating a call from the league office, that, at least in 2007, players were only determined to no longer be in the "vicinity" of the bench when they were "20 to 25 feet away from their seats" not a few steps. Given these parameters, Paul George (averaging 22.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2,8 steals in the playoffs) as well as Rasual Butler should both expect to suit-up free and clear for Saturday's Game 7.

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