Udonis Haslem insists he meant no harm. The NBA deemed otherwise, and the Miami Heat will be without one of their co-captains when they try to close out the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night.
Haslem was suspended for Game 6 of the Miami-Indiana Eastern Conference semifinal series, a matchup where emotions boiled over in a runaway Heat victory on Tuesday night. The NBA also said Miami reserve center Dexter Pittman will miss three games in response to his flagrant foul against Indiana backup guard Lance Stephenson in the final seconds of Game 5.
Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough was not suspended, although the league upgraded his foul against Miami’s Dwyane Wade to a flagrant-2 on Wednesday – which, if called that way during Game 5, would have brought an automatic ejection. Hansbrough struck Wade in the head, opening a cut over his right eye. Moments later, Haslem committed a flagrant foul against Hansbrough, clearly in response to the play against Wade.
So while Haslem sits Thursday, Hansbrough may play.
”It’s the playoffs. There’s always some kind of noise,” Haslem said Wednesday, before the NBA penalties were announced. ”We’re focused on going on there and it’s going to be probably the most hostile environment we’ve faced so far.”
Except now, the Heat will face that environment without Haslem.
The Heat lead the series 3-2, after a 115-83 win Tuesday night in a game that had the three flagrant fouls on the court, accusations of dirty play afterward and finally with Pacers team president Larry Bird telling The Indianapolis Star that his team was ”soft” in Game 5.
”I agree with his assessment. We did play soft,” Indiana’s Danny Granger said Wednesday. ”We got smacked around. We got beat up, we got bullied, and we really didn’t respond well.”
Countered Miami’s LeBron James, the NBA’s reigning MVP: ”He’s just trying to amp them up. That’s all. That’s all it is. He knows his team isn’t soft. But with them, with their backs against the wall at this point, he knows what he’s doing. He’s not the executive of the year for no reason.”
Pittman logged only six minutes in the playoffs anyway, his presence in the postseason barely noticed until he laid out Stephenson – who made at least one choke sign toward James earlier in the series – with a forearm to the chin and shoulder areas.
”Hard fouls are part of the playoffs,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said Wednesday. ”Fouls to the head have no place in this game, not by us, not by Miami, not by any other team in any other series. With all the concussion research that’s been going on over the last few years it’s a very serious matter and it just doesn’t have any place in the game.”
Wade sounded somewhat amused that Granger – who’s been whistled for three technicals in the series – was one of the Pacers suggesting Haslem and Pittman should be suspended. Wade and Granger have had words during the series.
”We’re not in here crying about the fouls,” Wade said. ”They fouled us. … We’re moving on to Game 6. We’re not going to worry about what happened in Game 5. For us, it’s about moving forward.”
The Pacers may move forward without Granger, who sprained his left ankle in Game 5.
Granger was in flip-flops when Wednesday’s practice ended, saying he was on painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication. Stephenson, who had X-rays taken to rule out any fractures to his collarbone or shoulder areas, did not practice.
”In my mind, I’m going to play,” Granger said. ”Elimination game, I have to play.”
Vogel sounded concerned, but optimistic.
”Very much hoping he’ll be available tomorrow,” Vogel said. ”He’s a gamer. I’m thinking he’ll play. But his ankle’s pretty bad, so we’ll see.”
Vogel called Miami floppers before the series started, and it’s been gritty throughout. The teams combined to shoot 66 free throws in Game 1, and there have been a combined nine technicals and flagrants called in the four games since. Tension also increased after cameras caught Stephenson making a choke sign during Indiana’s Game 3 victory, and Juwan Howard confronting him about his antics before Game 4.
”It’s been a physical series, started by them,” Wade said.
And James said he doesn’t expect things to cool down when the Pacers try to save their season in Game 6.
”I always feel like in a playoff series or certain regular-season games that a team may be trying to go for me,” James said. ”It’s happened. I’m not saying guys are playing dirty, but certain guys say, `You know, if you hard-foul LeBron, get him off the ball, he’ll stop being aggressive and things like that.’ I know when it’s happening and I see when it’s about to happen. I’m always in protect mode. I’ve been hard-fouled a lot.”
James said one of those situations happened in Game 5. Indiana forward David West – who left Tuesday’s game with what the team called a sprained knee, though he insisted Wednesday he was not hurt – took exception to a play where he was knocked backward, saying a Heat player fell into his knee.
Not long afterward, he fouled James, who said he saw West coming.
”He was the one on the floor and I was the one still standing,” James said. ”So I started laughing at that. But he tried to get me.”
West said on Wednesday that if Indiana wants to force a Game 7 in Miami, it simply needs to play better on both ends than it did on Tuesday night.
”You’ve just got to stand your ground. I think that’s the biggest thing,” West said. ”It was unfortunate, the play at the end of the game on Lance. But we’ve just got to deal with it, man up, handle it – like I said, the best way you can, within the rules.”