May 07, 2009

The NBA playoffs got downright nasty Wednesday night with three incidents that found their way to the desk of league disciplinary czar Stu Jackson. On Thursday afternoon, the league announced Orlando's Rafer Alston and the Lakers' Derek Fisher would each be suspended for a game and that Kobe Bryant would be assessed a flagrant foul.'s NBA experts weigh in on how they feel the league should have handled each of the participants.

INCIDENT: Orlando's Rafer Alston slaps at the back of Eddie House's head (see the play here).

Ian Thomsen: I don't think Alston should have been suspended -- a fine ought to have taken care of it -- but as the league continues trying to stamp out fighting among players, or any kind of activity that could lead to violence on the court, I'm guessing that an example was made of Alston with a one-game suspension.

Chris Mannix: You have to suspend Alston. If you don't suspend someone for hitting someone, then you have to stop suspending. It's a no-brainer for the NBA office. There was obviously no possibility that House would get hurt, and it was a brain cramp by Alston. But in this case, there isn't much leeway for the league. If you see a shot like that, you have to act on it.

Steve Aschburner: I think what the NBA playoffs need more of is me winning the Powerball lottery ... c'mon, it's worth a try. No sooner had I written about the glaring lack of nastiness and dislike in this postseason than we got three separate instances in two games involving four players. Hopefully that old lamp I was dusting off has two more wishes in it.

Anyway, Alston absolutely deserves a suspension. You can't just whack someone across the back of the head like that. Unless it's a teammate and you're an overly exuberant Kevin Garnett, who has slapped several of his guys at least that hard through the years. Even though House's headband isn't the super thick-and-thirsty model worn nowadays by Brian Scalabrine for concussion protection, I've got to think Alston's slap was more insult than injury. But that's worth sitting him out a game, because more melees in this league get sparked by insults than injuries anyway. (I do have to admit, though, that I flashed back to my late dad's preferred form of discipline from way back when -- seeing a good head slap has the same misty-eyed effect on me as watching Kevin Costner say, "You wanna have a catch?")

Scott Howard-Cooper: No suspension. It was cheap and stupid, but the beating Alston's reputation will take for slapping a guy on the back of the head should have been the worst of it. It will go down as one of the strangest moments of the playoffs. What could Alston have been thinking?

• INCIDENT: The Lakers' Derek Fisher was assessed a flagrant foul and ejected for knocking down Houston's Luis Scola late in the third quarter (see the play here).

Ian Thomsen: Fisher threw his shoulder into Scola and blindsided him. These are the kinds of plays the league is trying to eliminate because they can lead to a larger fight on the court.

Chris Mannix: Again, there's no question: Fisher sized up Scola and made the decision to hurl his body at him, to use his body as a weapon. That warrants an instant suspension. Fisher is one of the smartest guys in the league. You have to wonder what he was thinking on that play.

Steve Aschburner: Suspension, no question. I think the Lakers might even say it's worth it for Fisher to get one. Having one of your little guys deck one of their big guys always has residual value, both in the message it delivers to the other team and in what it says to any of your own big men who haven't shown enough spine yet. But I cannot recall a more blatant bit of calculated mayhem, done so coolly right there in the open court in front of God, Jack and everyone. I've seen angry sucker punches and other incidents committed in a flash of passion, but Fisher planned and executed his pancaking of Scola without even the pretense of competition.

Scott Howard-Cooper: We know what Fisher was thinking. That was a cheap shot and likely an attempt to send a message, the only surprise being that Fisher didn't get all cage match to light a fire under his Lakers in the first quarter. It deserves a suspension. Fisher could have injured Scola.

INCIDENT: Ron Artest was ejected with 6:57 left in the game after complaining to referee Joey Crawford that Kobe Bryant had elbowed him in the throat under the basket (see the play here).

Ian Thomsen: Bryant went too far in throwing an elbow but he was trying to box out against one of the league's strongest and most physical players in Artest, who escalated the conflict by confronting Bryant. This is the first such incident involving Artest this season. I believe he was trying in his own way to demand respect from the officials -- believing that his reputation and his physical style prevent him from benefiting from foul calls -- but this one has backfired on him.

Chris Mannix: Artest got tossed mostly because he's Artest. Also, coming after the Fisher takedown, Crawford was trying to prevent escalation from that incident. Artest made a mistake in running over to Bryant. He should have just left it alone. Kobe got away with one when he threw that elbow. But it was a heat-of-the-moment play. They were both tangled up, they were both going for the ball and jockeying for position. I don't think there was any type of premeditation that warrants a suspension for either player.

Steve Aschburner: No suspensions here, if I was the commish's top cop. To me, Bryant's elbow was bad -- just not quite as bad as Dwight Howard's on Samuel Dalembert, which came after a play rather than during one and led to Howard's one-game suspension in the first round. I also don't like suspensions being handed out to clean up mistakes and omissions from the previous game's officiating crew. Crawford, Bill Spooner and Greg Willard should have caught it and dealt with it somehow -- technical, flagrant or just a personal foul -- in the moment. That they didn't is what led to Artest's reaction. Artest said he had alerted the refs to Bryant's slapping at his hand, but, frankly, I need to see the rule and hear an interpretation of it, because we see offensive players do that all the time, right up to His Airness back in the day. No wonder Bryant might adopt the tactic. If Artest really was within his rights to complain about that, then what transpired from there was on the refs.

Scott Howard-Cooper: No suspension. Bad enough that Artest got clubbed by Bryant and also got called for the foul. Artest could have handled it better by not running after Bryant. And the Rockets could have handled it much, much better -- gang-tackle Artest the next time he's heading for someone at anything faster than a great-grandmother's stroll, build a barricade to keep him away from Crawford in that heated moment. But it was all handled in the moment. Nothing more needs to be done.

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