By Ben Golliver
The NBA announced Tuesday that Thunder forward Serge Ibaka has been fined $25,000 but not suspended for his low blow on Clippers forward Blake Griffin during a 108-104 Oklahoma City victory at the Staples Center on Sunday. Chris Mannix of SI.com reported earlier Tuesday that Ibaka would incur a fine but avoid a suspension for the blow, which was originally ruled a flagrant foul 1. Upon reviewing the play, the NBA did upgrade the foul to a flagrant foul 2.
Ibaka is now eligible to play when the Thunder host the Lakers in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
Sunday's intense, physical game came to a head when Ibaka and Griffin battled for rebounding position following a Matt Barnes three-point attempt. Ibaka grabbed Griffin’s right arm and then chopped down toward Griffin’s midsection, making clear contact with Griffin’s groin. Griffin went to the floor stunned and doubled over in pain.
The referees reviewed the play and assessed a flagrant foul 1, for contact deemed unnecessary, rather than a flagrant foul 2, given for contact that is both unnecessary and excessive. Because Ibaka avoided a flagrant foul 2, which requires an automatic ejection, he was able to remain in the game.
This ruling is a bit dicey given that, back in Dec. 2012, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was suspended one game for a low blow on Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo. Of course, Cousins has a lengthy track record of various infractions whereas Ibaka does not, and that prevents the two rulings from being an apples-to-apples comparison.
The ideal situation here would have involved a flagrant foul 2 being called during the game, as Ibaka's contact of Griffin was certainly excessive. The NBA's upgrade of Ibaka's foul upon review has no meaningful impact once the final buzzer sounded between the Clippers and Thunder. Had Ibaka been ejected immediately, a "slap on the wrist" fine would feel like a more appropriate punishment. As is, the league looks fairly weak here: two free throws and $25,000 shouldn't be the only punishment for such an action. That's a dangerous precedent.