Heat forward LeBron James took a blow to the face from Bulls guard Nate Robinson during Game 5 of an Eastern Conference semifinals series on Wednesday.
After some discussion among the referees, Robinson was assessed a personal foul rather than a flagrant foul on the play, and replays seemed to indicate that James embellished the degree of contact.
With a little less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bulls leading 81-80, Robinson met James near halfcourt, intentionally fouling him to break up a transition opportunity. Robinson pushed his right hand upwards toward James' chin, and the 2013 MVP snapped his head backwards in response before eventually falling backwards to the court. The head motion seemed inconsistent with what appeared to be the minimal level of contact; exaggerated motions like this one have drawn warnings from the NBA's league office under a new anti-flopping policy introduced this season.
Back in December, for example, Hawks center Zaza Pachulia flopped backwards in an attempt to draw a foul on Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin, who swung his elbow near Pachulia's head but didn't actually make contact.
Clippers guard Chris Paul was also singled out in the league’s official video introducing its flopping policy for a similar action. During that play, Paul was defending a drive before he fell backwards dramatically to the ground as if he had been struck by an elbow.
“As the highlighted defensive player, No. 3 in the red uniform, defends the driving offensive player, he feels slight contact and then launches himself back to the floor,” the video’s narrator explained. “This reaction by the defensive player is an over-embellishment of marginal contact and is intended to draw an unearned offensive foul on his opponent.”
James' reactions to physical plays has been an issue throughout this testy series.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Robinson both got in digs at James following Miami’s 104-94 Game 3 victory in Chicago last Friday night. In that game, Bulls center Nazr Mohammed sent James flying across the court with a two-handed shove to the chest.
“From my angle, I just saw a guy, basically, flop,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”
“You see LeBron in a lot of commercials, a lot of good acting,” Robinson added, according to Yahoo! Sports.
James responded to those comments last Sunday.
“I don’t need to flop,” James said, according to the Associated Press. “I play an aggressive game. I don’t flop. I’ve never been one of those guys.
"I don’t want to get involved too much with what everybody else says about us, about me. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before in my career. It’s nothing. … I’m here to play basketball and do whatever it takes for our team to win. So what a coach and players say to me and about me, I don’t really care. … It’s kind of the same [as when] I heard people say I was overrated. It’s kind of like the same response.”
Thibodeau was fined $35,000 Sunday for making an issue of the officiating following Game 3. Bulls forward Taj Gibson was fined $25,000 for verbally abusing an official during his Game 2 ejection.
James has not yet received a warning or fine this season under the NBA’s new anti-flopping policy, which aims to curb the most egregious simulations and over-exaggerations.
Miami went on to defeat Chicago 94-91 to win Game 5 and close out the series 4-1. The Heat will face either the Pacers or the Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals. Indiana leads New York 3-1 with Game 6 set for Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
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