The Golden State Warriors will be without starting power forward David Lee when they take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in a nationally televised game on Wednesday night, as the NBA suspended the Western Conference All-Star for his part in a multi-player fourth-quarter scuffle during the Warriors' Tuesday night loss to the Indiana Pacers.
With the Pacers up 10 midway through the fourth quarter on Tuesday, Lee banged into Indy center Roy Hibbert as Pacers power forward David West was both shooting and being fouled by Golden State big man Andris Biedrins. Hibbert shoved back, and Lee responded by getting right in Hibbert's mug, then bumping him in the chest. This drew the attention and presence of several other players, including Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who rushed in (presumably to play peacemaker) and got tossed to the floor by Hibbert for his trouble, and West, who rolled into the scene and — in the inimitable words of my Y! Sports colleague Marc J. Spears — "Debo'd like three Warriors" before turning his attention toward settling things down. (Reminder: You don't want it with David West.)
A slew of other people got involved, too, as the fracas spilled over into the first couple of rows of courtside seats; while no fans were involved or harmed, the fact that things escalated to the point where the altercation left the playing surface — and that the referees saw fit to eject Hibbert, issue technicals to Lee, Curry, West and Warriors guard Klay Thompson — suggested additional punishment would be forthcoming. Sure enough, it was.
USA TODAY Sports' Sam Amick broke Lee's suspension Wednesday afternoon, with Howard Beck of the New York Times confirming it soon after. The NBA made the official announcement about 20 minutes after Amick's tweet, revealing that Lee and Hibbert had been suspended for one game for "instigating the altercation," and that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors and Pacers guard Lance Stephenson had each been fined $35,000 for "escalating the altercation."
After Tuesday's game, Lee downplayed the incident, according to Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group:
"I thought he kind of led with his elbow a little bit on the initial duck in," Lee said. "I shoved him back a little bit, and I think it kind of escalated quick from there." [...]
"Two teams competing hard, two teams wanting to win," Lee said. "We leave that kind of stuff on the floor, and I don't think there is too much conversation that needs to come of it."
Clearly, NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson didn't agree; as a result, Golden State will be without their leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and third-leading assist-disher when they take on Carmelo Anthony's Knicks tonight. Then again, maybe the night off's a blessing for Lee; after the game, he told Thompson that he "experienced stiffness and soreness in his left shoulder" after colliding with Pacers rookie guard Orlando Johnson on a second-quarter screen, and that "it was possible he might not play in New York" anyway.
Then again, it seems unlikely that a little shoulder stiffness would have kept Lee from suiting up at his old stomping groups to take on the team for whom he played the first five years of his career. Either way, his agent was none too thrilled by the league's decision, and let it be known that he'll be appealing the judgment.
"I don't think what David did warranted a suspension, but that's something we'll talk about privately with the league," Mark Bartelstein told Amick on Wednesday afternoon. A successful appeal might recoup Lee's $155,414.63 game check, but it won't do the Warriors much good on the floor on Wednesday; unlike other sports, NBA rules don't allow players in the process of an appeal to continue to play while the appeal is being heard, and the rules also prevent any suspended player, coach or assistant from appearing "in any part of the arena or stands where his team is playing." So if you're out and about in Manhattan tonight, keep your eyes peeled for a sour-pussed 6-foot-11 dude with a slight beard paying extra close attention to the score of the Knicks/Warriors game.