CLEVELAND – Taj Gibson said he gave Matthew Dellavedova a look before things really got out of hand Tuesday night. “A look like, ‘What are you doin’, this is basketball, this isn’t wrestling,’ ” the Chicago Bulls forward said.
Didn’t matter. Within minutes, Gibson had been banished from the court at Quicken Loans Arena and had a towel thrown at him as he headed through a tunnel, exiting in a clamor worthy of a World Wrestling villain.
A ruckus that started with Gibson and Dellavedova, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ backup point guard, rapidly engulfed both teams and the sellout crowd early in the fourth quarter. Gibson and Dellavedova had banged a couple of times already, colliding in pick-and-roll switches and vying for rebounds, when it happened again with 10:25 remaining
The 6-foot-9, 238-pound Gibson pushed down Dellavedova, who stands 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Lying face down under the basket, the Cavs guard sended Gibson’s left leg between his, down near his ankles. So he clamped down, making it difficult for the Bulls player to move.
That’s when Gibson, claiming only to be freeing his leg, jerked his foot loose in what, in the primary camera’s view, appeared to be a swift kick to Dellavedova’s backside (or undercarriage).
Or as LeBron James, who was watching from the Cleveland bench, described it: “They kind of get tangled up a little bit, and then [Taj] kicks him in the ass. That’s what happened. And the skirmish starts after that.”
Gibson’s version differed considerably.
“I didn’t kick him at all,” he said. “He just leg-locked me. It got chippy at the end, of course. I tried to pull my leg back. It looked like I kicked him from the way and the force I was pulling my leg out, but … I have to deal with the consequences. They ejected me. I have to deal with whatever the league passes out. But I didn’t kick him at all.”
Gibson was assessed a flagrant-2 type foul, which carries an automatic ejection. The Cavaliers, with their fans fully engaged, rode the emotions of the moment to a little spurt that put them up 92-77 before James re-entered.
But Chicago righted itself enough to outscore Cleveland 24-14 the rest of the way, in spite of going down a second big man (Pau Gasol sat out his second consecutive game in the series with a strained left hamstring.)
“Both teams kind of swarmed the situation and made it bigger than what it was,” Gibson said. “Nobody threw any punches. I’m just sad I couldn’t finish the game and help my team.
“I mean, I didn’t say anything to him. We all react. But this is basketball – we can’t fight. I don’t know why guys always take to that kind of fuss, like they’re gonna do something. I just tried to pull my leg back. When you’re on TV, everything always looks different. But I just try to play basketball. I’m just frustrated I couldn’t finish the game.”
Gibson downplayed a hard screen he had set on Dellavedova to start the play and didn’t ‘fess up to any extra contact when shoving him for rebound position. The Cavs guard does tend to bounce around with kinetic energy, so it wasn’t clear if his reactions to Gibson’s bumps were entirely legit or accentuated.
But James felt Gibson had set the tone on a previous Aaron Brooks-Gibson pick-and-roll.
“It was a couple plays before that that kind of transpired that. Taj threw Delly across the lane a few plays before that on another box-out,” James said. “The same thing happened again: They ran a high pick-and-roll … and we switched. Taj elbows Delly in the back of the head and puts him on the ground.”
And that, James said, was when Gibson kicked his teammate.
Referee Joey Crawford assessed the flagrant-2 foul, reviewing the play while the crowd saw it five or six times on the massive videoboard at The Q – and reacted angrily with each replay of the alleged kick.
Gibson didn’t have much time to give his version to the referees. “Once that official makes a decision, that’s what it is,” he said. “It was really hard to get an explanation when it’s so loud in there. And we’ve got our security, Eric Buck, he just grabbed me and we tried to get off the court in a timely fashion.”
James said he made sure that no Cavs players left the bench area, which by NBA rules would bring certain suspensions from the hotly contested playoff series.
James added: “We just want to play ball. We know there’s going to be some games where it’s going to be physical. My message to my guys is, just play basketball. We’re going to protect ourselves, obviously. J.R. [Smith], Double-T [Tristan Thompson], they all came to the aid of Delly.”
Dellavedova is one of James’ favorite teammates, so the superstar’s protectiveness of his underdog Australian hustle player was understandable.
“Anyone who starts something with Delly, seriously, Delly doesn’t bother anybody,” James said. “He doesn’t even bother himself, so how’s he going to bother somebody else?”