INDIANAPOLIS — Retaliation comes at a price, and the true cost for the Heat will be totaled up by late Thursday.
Miami will be without Udonis Haslem, whose foul on Tyler Hansbrough was upgraded to level two and the league office tacked on a one-game suspension to boot. Hansbrough wasn’t suspended for his hard foul moments earlier on Dwyane Wade, and truthfully, the league didn’t see any malice by the Pacer forward. But Haslem’s hit was clearly a payback, and the intent, therefore, was judged just as damaging than the actual foul.
That’s why Dexter Pittman was suspended (three games, and he probably got off light) for clubbing Lance Stephenson and then winking about it. As if the vicious foul wasn’t enough, Pittman went after Stephenson because the Pacer reserve gave the choke signal to LeBron James. Once again, the intent, as well as the foul, carried equal weight.
Because Pittman is a benchwarmer who seldom sees any light anyway, the loss of Haslem is where Miami could feel a pinch. Coincidently, Game 6 is at Bankers Life, where Haslem dropped four critical jumpers late in the fourth quarter of Game 4, which tilted the series in Miami’s favor. Since the Heat’s supporting cast isn’t especially deep, and because Haslem has scored 24 points the last two games, this could be a price that proves too difficult to overcome, unless someone else steps forward for Miami.
While this was a bad reflection on Haslem and Pittman, it also wasn’t the finest hour for the officiating crew that worked the game. Neither Haslem or Pittman were ejected, and while rough play sometimes slips by the refs, these two should’ve been obvious. Especially if the refs took into account the bad blood between Stephenson and the Heat (Juwan Howard confronted Stephenson prior to Game 4) and the Hansbrough hit on Wade, which they didn’t.
“It looked like the wild wild West out there,” said the Pacers’ Danny Granger, and you wonder if both teams got the message and are ready to settle things on the court, especially after Pacers president Larry Bird called his team “soft.” Well, the only thing “soft” was the punishment for Pittman, who should’ve received twice the suspension.
Playoff basketball is laced with hard fouls, which is understandable, but for a few minutes, this series had gotten out of hand. You can blame it on Granger’s tough-guy act that began to wear on James and Wade. Or go back further and cite Pacers coach Frank Vogel calling the Heat a bunch of floppers. Regardless, this isn’t the time for any team to resort to ugly basketball when talent should deliver the punch instead.
The best way to answer a tough foul is with a scoring binge or a crucial defensive stop. Leave the goons to hockey and the beaning to baseball, where that stuff is accepted.