INDIANAPOLIS – Udonis Haslem won’t be playing in Game 6 of the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers playoff series Thursday night. Tyler Hansbrough will be. And Dexter Pittman … c’mon, does Dexter Pittman’s availability really matter?
The afternoon-after officiating of the flagrant-foul frenzy in Game 5 probably got it right: Haslem, Hansbrough and Pittman all had their flagrant-1 fouls upgraded to flagrant-2 violations, but Haslem (one game) and Pittman (three games) also were handed suspensions for striking the head and shoulders of their intended Indiana targets.
Haslem must sit out Game 6 without pay for his two-armed chop on Hansbrough, which came less than a minute after the Pacers forward put a hard foul on Miami’s Dwyane Wade. Wade got hit in the head and shoulders, too, but in the view of Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, that was a foul that fit within the context of basketball. Who hasn’t seen Wade, after all, get up some acrobatic continuation shot that dropped after a defender fouled and let him go?
Haslem’s and Pittsman’s moves, in real time, in replays and in context, were retaliatory moves. That wasn’t included in the league’s news release on their suspensions, but it was evident to anyone in the building or watching the game. Haslem “had” Wade’s back and Pittman apparently decided to do for LeBron James what Juwan Howard had only yapped about. Lance Stephenson, remember, was the Pacers’ deep reserve who made a choke gesture courtside when James missed a free throw in Game 3.
The Heat won’t be happy about losing Haslem, who has given them value scoring, rebounding and toughness (most of it clean) off the bench in the past two games. Will it swing the series? Hard to say. But the NBA would have been remiss – and didn’t offer any explanation for why the game officials got their rulings wrong – if it had let the Heat’s two hammerings go without further punishment. Those veered into hockey, bordering on pro wrestling and had a distinctly dirty feel.
Remember, all Stephenson did was act stupid and disrespect James from afar. He didn’t get physical with anybody, yet wound up getting clotheslined across his collarbone by Pittman’s lunging elbow.
Expect a more buttoned-down Game 6, despite Larry Bird’s “soft” challenge to his Pacers in what might be their elimination. A couple of key transgressors won’t be active and the referee crew almost certainly will have quick whistles, lest things get uglier.