HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The war of words between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat should be at full tilt by tip-off tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Finals, thanks to Pacers forward David West and center Roy Hibbert and their continued sniping about Heat forward Shane Battier being a “dirty” player.
“I always have to have my guard up and protect my knees when he’s on me,” West told reporters today. “He’s got this funny way of moving into your knees, so we’re very conscious of that. So we talk about protecting our knees. It’s an irritant. I’m doubly conscious of it because of my own knee issues (an ACL surgery before last season). You just know the way he plays, he’s trying to make an impact any way he can, so you just have to be prepared for everything.”
“It’s an irritant; when guys are bearing into your knees. I’m doubly conscious of it having an ACL (tear) a year and a half ago. I don’t know (if it’s an intent to injure), I just know the way he plays he’s trying to make an impact any way he can.”
Hibbert offered up his own assessment, calling Battier “dirty.”
“I know what (Battier) brings to the game and it’s worked for him in the past. He has to do whatever he has to do to make sure his team wins,” Hibbert said. “I’m going to watch my knees, watch my groin. … To tell you the truth, I don’t care. I’m in there, I’m playing tough. He has to do what he has to do. Obviously I don’t like it but it’s a part of the game. I don’t want to look back say I gave in to a dirty player.”
This is not exactly breaking news, the Pacers complaining about Battier. Hibbert was on this kick after Game 1, insisting that Battier’s raised knee on a drive to the basket was routine for the veteran forward who is known for agitating opponents with some of his tactics.
But after three players (the Pacers’ West and Lance Stephenson and the Heat’s LeBron James) were fined $5,000 each for flops committed in Game 4, the undercurrent of animosity between the two sides should be intense tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena.
For his part, Battier is attempting to stake out high ground in this totally unnecessary debate about who should or should not be labeled as “dirty.”
“In a perfect world, we’d all love to be stoic, immovable forces where the force of very large men throwing themselves into you doesn’t affect you,” Battier said. “Yeah, that’d be great. But unfortunately, there’s a thing called physics involved that seems to win out more often than not.”
Playoff drama is one thing. Bickering and battling on the court is another. Calling out an opponent as “dirty” and suggesting that his aim to injure someone, however, crosses a line that no one involved here needs to, particularly at such a crucial stage of the series.
It makes for great theater, of course, heading into tonight’s Game 5 showdown (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) . We’ll find out exactly how the Pacers deal with Battier and how the Heat respond to yet another shot from their new rivals in the East.