Admittedly, I wasn’t paying particularly close attention to the early stages of Tuesday night’s Pacers-Heat Game 5. It was one of those nights where stuff kept popping up; e-mails that needed to answered, phone calls, unexpected paternity suit paperwork. Ok, maybe not that last one. But we all have “those” nights, and for me, Tuesday night was exactly that.
Again, I was only kinda, sorta watching, but when I looked up early in the second quarter and unexpectedly saw blood trickling down Dwyane Wade’s face, well, I wasn’t surprised. As a matter of fact, my first thought was “Here we go again.” From the first minute, of the first game of this series, the Pacers have been trying to play the role of tough guys and trying to physically intimidate the Heat at every turn. Some nights it’s worked and some nights it hasn’t, but the idea that Indiana was trying to be the bully again was like hearing Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are now “dating.” Frankly, it didn’t shock me in the least.
From that point on I started paying a bit closer attention, and it also didn’t surprise me when a few plays later, Udonis Halsem came down the court, and threw down an equally hard foul on Tyler Hansbrough, Wade’s assailant on the previously mentioned play. We’ll get to why I wasn’t surprised in a minute, but the fact remains, the play didn’t catch me off-guard at all.
What did surprise me however, was the reaction to Haslem’s foul.
Yes the foul was hard, and yes it was unnecessary, but the way that most people reacted, you’d have thought Haslem pulled a knife on Hansbrough and shanked him on the way to the foul line or something. At that exact moment, Twitter blew up, and everybody pretty much had the same reaction: Haslem needs to be ejected! He needs to be suspended! Send him to Riker’s Island and throw away the key!
Whoa, slow down there, folks.
Look, to a degree I do get the frustration. As I said, the foul was hard and intentional, and you can’t purposely foul someone without there being some kind of repercussion. It also didn’t help matters that the refs initially planned to give Haslem a Flagrant 2 (which would’ve meant an immediate ejection), and at the last second switched it up to a Flagrant 1, keeping him in the game. Whether that call will eventually get overturned in the league office or not will be determined soon enough. But it certainly didn’t help the perception that the NBA favors the Heat.
At the same time though, I was stunned by the reaction to the play, if only because all I ever hear from NBA fans is how awful the refs are, and how they’re ruining the sport of professional basketball (college too, but that’s another story for another day). All I ever hear about is how a player can’t look at a ref without getting a tech, how flops are an epidemic worse than Ebola, how no one is allowed to just go out and “just play basketball” anymore.
Well folks, I’ve got to ask: Don’t you think you’re being a tiny bit hypocritical right now? Because I kinda, sorta, think you are. And while there are shades of grey in all this, we as fans need to make some decisions here. Are the refs protecting the game or ruining it? Are hard fouls good for the sport or bad? Should players be allowed to police themselves or not? You can’t have your cake and it too.
And the funny thing is, it’s not like it’s been weeks or months since fans have been outraged by over-refereeing, since it just happened Monday night. You do remember that play, right? When the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Thabo Sefolosha went in for a lay-up, the Lakers Ron “Metta World Peace” Artest contested the ball… and was called for a flagrant foul? Sound familiar? Because I sure remember it, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t outraged. After all, I’m still not positive if it was a foul period, let alone a flagrant. Yet Artest got called for a flagrant, and it completely changed the vibe of the game.
Now granted, I do understand that there are a few variables in play with Artest that simply weren’t an issue last night with Haslem. The biggest one is of course that he is in fact Ron Artest, and that the refs have to act accordingly every time he does something questionable. The simple truth is that Ron Artest has created a reputation for Ron Artest, and whether he likes it or not, he’s got to live with the consequences of it.
At the same time, I did find it interesting to see the reaction to Artest’s foul on Monday and Haslem’s on Tuesday. It might not have been a totally apples to apples comparison, but it wasn’t as far off as people think, either.
For starters, let me give the necessary qualifier here and say that only Udonis Haslem knows what his true intent on the foul was. My personal opinion (and one which is shared by most, I suspect) is that it was premeditated, which obviously isn’t good. At the same time, there’s a big difference between “premeditated hard foul” and “intent to injure” and I think a lot of folks are getting that mixed up a little bit here.
As a matter of fact, when you get a moment, I seriously encourage you to watch the video of the Haslem foul again closely. Do that and you’ll see that while the foul was hard (again, nobody is denying that), Haslem also came down with two arms on Hansbrough’s shoulder. That might not mean much to you, but to me it means that Haslem was trying to get his point across, without trying to bring physical harm to Hansbrough. Trust me, if Haslem really wanted to “hurt” Hansbrough, he could’ve. He could’ve gone directly to Hansbrough’s face, side-swiped his legs in mid-air, something like that. Nope, instead, he went for the shoulder. Given that Hansbrough’s own foul (which premeditated Haslem’s) left blood trickling down Dwyane Wade’s face, a pretty compelling case could be made that his was actually worse.
But really, the reason I’m going to defend Haslem here is because of the timing of the foul. By the way, you did notice when the foul came, didn’t you? It wasn’t in Game 4 after Haslem got hit so hard he needed stiches to close up a cut above his eye. It came in Game 5, after Hansbrough went after Wade, a guy who just so happens to be Miami’s superstar, and Haslem’s teammate for the past eight years.
Again, it’s not about the foul itself, but the context behind it. As best I can tell, this wasn’t some random act of violence on some unsuspecting Pacer, but instead, came on Hansbrough, the same guy who had just committed a hard on Wade on the other end of the court. To me, Haslem’s foul sent a very distinct message to the entire Pacers team: “Be tough if you want. Hit me, I don’t care. But if you mess with my superstar, well, we’ve got a problem.” In a lot of ways, it was no different than a Major League Baseball pitcher retaliating after one of his own players gets hit by the opposing pitcher. In essence, “You mess with him, you mess with me.”
Beyond that, I thought Haslem’s foul had more “big picture” overtones than anything else. After all, the Pacers have been trying to bully, badger and intimidate the Heat since the first minute of the first game of this series, which, by the way I have no problem with. These are professional sports after all.
At some point though, enough is enough and a team has to draw a line in the sand. The Heat didn’t do it when Haslem got his face gashed open in Game 4, and they didn’t do after all of Danny Granger’s little cheap shots on LeBron and others in all games leading up into Tuesday. But clearly, the foul on Wade was the tipping point. It was the moment where Haslem- a veteran player, on a veteran team- put his foot down, and made a very important statement. That statement:
“Look, we tried to handle this like men. We tried to be adults. We tried to let the basketball do the talking for us. But if you guys want to act like a bunch of punks, we’re going to treat you like a bunch of punks.”
And to the Heat’s credit, from that point on, they did in fact punk the Pacers. Miami outscored Indiana 83-58 from the moment after Haslem’s arms came down on Hansbrough’s shoulder and cruised to an easy victory.
In the end, please understand that I’m saying all this is right. I’m definitely not encouraging it. In a perfect world where the sun always shined, the birds always chirped, and Craig Sager wore normal suits, this wouldn’t be an issue. We could the basketball do the talking, and praise the better team for victory, rather than discuss all the ancillary stuff that comes with it.
But this is basketball, and this stuff does happen.
And if you’re looking for a guy to get all upset, to piss and moan and call for Haslem’s head, well, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m just not that upset.
I’m not upset about what happened Tuesday night in Game 5, or what’s to come Thursday.
See you for Game 6.
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