MIAMI – Maybe someone on the Miami bench got the memo from Pat Riley.
Whatever it was, the days of the Heat scoffing at the Indiana Pacers’ “tough” tactics – mostly embodied by Danny Granger’s yapping through the first four games – ended with a thud – and an oomphs and a crunch or two – in Game 5 Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Granted, Tyler Hansbrough initiated the physical stuff Tuesday in what became Miami’s 115-83 blowout victory, good for a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven playoff series. Hansbrough smothered Dwyane Wade on a drive to the basket and opened a cut above the Miami shooting guard’s right eye, sending him to the bench for some corner work and earning Hansbrough a flagrant-1 foul.
That was at 10:23 of the second quarter. Only 41 seconds later, Miami got some payback that seemed right from the old Riley playbook (New York days especially) of smash-mouth basketball. And he is the Heat team president, after all.
Udonis Haslem – who had suffered a similar bloody gash over his right eye in Game 4, thanks to an errant Louis Amundson elbow – saw the opening when Hansbrough got the ball on the left wing and came forward, jumping to shoot. The Heat power forward went up with two arms high and brought them down hard, way right of the ball but hard at Hansbrough’s head. Down went Hansbrough, as the Miami crowd roared.
At first, ref Jason Phillips seemed to indicate that Haslem was gone, the natural result of a flagrant-2 foul. But a review of the play and conversations amongst the officials produced only a flagrant-1. It was the same penalty that Hansbrough had been dealt, though the Pacers player at least went for the ball while snuffing Wade with it.
“I felt like I got hit in the face,” Hansbrough said of the foul he absorbed. Should it have been the stiffer flagrant-2? “That’s for you guys to decide.”
The reaction within the Pacers ranks, and among media at the game, in the blogosphere and at halftime in the TNT studio was nearly unanimous: It should have been a flagrant-2 and Haslem should have been out. Instead, he stuck around and scored 10 points with six rebounds in 17 minutes of work.
Later, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was asked about it before, Spoelstra said, he’d had a chance to see any replays. “We thought he was making a play on the ball. It’s a physical series. Nobody wants to make it into anything more than that,” the Heat coach said. “We have to beat them at the game of basketball. Anyhing that’s over the line, we don’t want any of that. But we have to play physical, we have to play with force. They’re doing the same thing.”
Said Indiana forward David West, who had his own battered game (10 points, four rebounds) to focus on: “He just came in to deliver a hard foul. I mean, all’s fair. That’s the way I look at it.”
There was one more nasty foul, this one coming near the end of garbage time. Heat deep-reserve big man Dexter Pittman nailed Pacers guard Lance Stephenson with an elbow with 19.4 seconds left to earn himself a flagrant-1. It was part Andrew Bynum circa 2011 elimination, part New Orleans Saints bounty. Stephenson, remember, is the Pacers player who made a choke gesture when LeBron James bricked a free throw earlier in the series. Pittman even appeared to wink to someone while Stephenson shot his free throws.
“He may have broken his collarbone,” Granger told reporters. “[Pittman] looked over and saw him coming. He laid him out. And he’s a big man.”
Now, with a day before Game 6 at Indiana, the video figures to be reviewed by the league headquarters. Will Haslem face a fine, suspension or both if his foul is upgraded to a flagrant-2? Might Pittman face additional penalties? Did the refs get Hansbrough’s right?
Then there was a comment by West late Thursday, when asked about the physical stuff and a hit or two he might have absorbed. “I can handle it myself,” he said. “Don’t need anybody to protect me.” That seemed a veiled jab at James and Wade, who didn’t seek their own payback.
Expect to see more “bodies colliding,” as Spoelstra has been calling it.