Miami’s LeBron James and Indiana’s David West and Lance Stephenson were all fined $5,000 by the NBA on Thursday for violating the league’s anti-flopping policy.
James and West were penalized for the same play during a messy Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. James spun and fell and West tumbled toward the baseline during what looked like a poorly choreographed dance routine as the NBA’s MVP defended the Indiana forward.
Stephenson was fined for exaggerating the contact after a slight elbow from Ray Allen following his basket, staggering back toward the sideline after making a short jumper.
The NBA began fining players this year for trying to fool referees into calling fouls when there had been limited contact.
”We accept it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday. ”We don’t want the attention or the focus to be on the officiating. We want it to be on the competition.”
Game 5 of the series is Thursday night in Miami, with the teams knotted at two games apiece.
”I have no thoughts on officiating or flopping,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. ”I have nothing to share. I’m sorry.”
The Pacers’ 99-92 victory Tuesday was filled with physical plays and marked by a combined 55 personal fouls. One of those fouls, committed by West against Dwyane Wade with 5:57 left in the fourth quarter of Game 4, was upgraded by the NBA to a flagrant-1.
”At this moment, you’ve got to do whatever you have to do within the guidelines of the game to try to win, whether it’s trying to draw fouls or whatever,” West said. ”It’s just part of the game.”
Heat players were apparently unaware of the NBA’s decisions while they were holding their game-day shootaround practice Thursday morning.
”I didn’t even know they handed out three flops,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. ”I didn’t know. We didn’t talk about it at all. We’re concentrating on other things. Those things we can’t do anything about. This is the type of series where you’re going to have to focus on very specific things, possession by possession. And if you’re looking at something else, you’re doing your team a disservice.”
The amount of contact in this series has been amped up from basically the beginning, though it hasn’t reached the over-the-top level that the Pacers and Heat reached in their sometimes-bloody matchup in the second round last season.
The Pacers were upset earlier in the series about the perception that Shane Battier was guilty of a dirty play when he kneed Pacers center Roy Hibbert in the midsection on a drive in Game 1. And even on Thursday, before Game 5, Battier was still a topic of Pacer discussion.
”He’s got this funny way of moving into your knees,” West said. ”We’re very conscious of that. We talk about making sure we protect our knees.”
Added Hibbert: ”He has to do whatever he has to do to make sure his team wins, and that’s fine. But I’m going to protect myself when I’m on the court.”
The fines are basically nominal given the salaries of NBA players. Stephenson makes just over $900,000 this season, while West makes $10 million and James makes about $17 million in playing salary, plus an estimated $40 million more in endorsements.
”Five thousand dollars is a lot of money,” West said. ”I don’t care how much money you’re making.”
Steve Kerr, working the game as an analyst for TNT, said flopping has ”been apparent throughout the series but I think it got worse” during Game 4.
James was voted to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team, but Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau accused him of flopping after a play during the Heat’s second-round series victory over the Bulls. The play with West came not long after James said flopping was ”not even a bad thing, you’re just trying to get the advantage.”
Kerr said flopping was ”unbecoming of star players.”
”To me, flopping is sort of the territory of guys who are just trying to hang onto their position in the league and they have to find their way to be successful and productive somehow,” he said in a phone interview before the penalties were announced.
”So if Battier and (Tyler) Hansbrough are going to flop a little bit because that’s how they’re going to impact the game right now, I’m probably more willing to give them a pass than when I see David West and LeBron falling all over each other in the post, two of the best players in the league.”
Players were given a warning for a first offense during the regular season but are fined for the first flop in the postseason.