With just under two minutes remaining in the first half of Sunday's early tip between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons — to which we're sure you were all glued because there wasn't much else going on yesterday, sports-wise — Lakers big man Pau Gasol took the ball to the basket against Pistons center Greg Monroe and got fouled. Just a few feet away, L.A. forward Metta World Peace and Detroit guard Brandon Knight were tangled up under the rim, battling for post/rebounding position ... and it sure looked like Metta took his "battling" a bit too seriously:
"I guess this building brings out the 'Ron Artest' in Metta World Peace." Well done, Pistons play-by-play man George Blaha.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed after the scrum and no "Malice at the Palace" redux ensued. World Peace was hit with a flagrant foul-1, the Pistons were granted two foul shots (Knight made both) and the ball (Knight missed a jumper), and the game continued apace, with the Lakers taking an 11-point lead into halftime and barely hanging on late for a 98-97 win.
After the game, the Pistons' sophomore guard was asked whether World Peace's grab around the neck and subsequent clinch work went a bit too far ... and he answered in the affirmative, according to Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:
"I was surprised the ref didn't see it. He definitely threw a punch," Knight said. "It felt like a punch. That's why I reacted like I did, I'm not gonna react — guys always get tussled up, even though he grabbed me around the neck." [...]
"The play was over, the whistle blew and if somebody grabs you around the neck, you're not gonna let that happen," Knight said. "You do what you have to, to get the person off you."
Knight appeared off his game for the remainder of the half, missing his next shot and committing two turnovers in the final minute.
"Nah, it didn't rattle me," Knight said. "I know what type of player he is. That stuff happens sometimes and you have to continue to be focused." [...]
"If somebody grabs you around the neck for no reason and you feel like they throw a punch … it's basketball, it gets heated sometimes but you understand that. You have to hold your ground at some point."
Looking back at the tape, you can see World Peace get his right arm around the back of Knight's neck. As Knight tries to push World Peace away, the Lakers forward slides his left arm inside of Knight's right, pulls Knight's head down and comes up with the left to the chin. It wasn't a full-fledged uppercut, though; World Peace didn't make a closed fist, and appeared to hit Knight with the outside of his wrist.
Still, it's clear that he did bring his arm up into Knight's face while holding the back of his head, and it's clear that Knight didn't appreciate it. At best, it calls to mind World Peace's swinging back elbow on James Harden last year, where the intent might not have been to injure but Metta still bore responsibility for the damage done by his limbs; at worst, it could be that World Peace was deliberately cheap-shotting a guy on whom he's got a good four inches and at least 55 or 60 pounds, which wouldn't be too cool. Actually, it's not too cool either way, really.
For his part, World Peace downplayed the incident after the game, doing just a beautiful job of damning Knight with faint praise in the process, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin:
"He's a small guy," World Peace said after finishing with eight points and nine rebounds in the win. "[Knight] was trying his hardest to keep me off him. He worked hard, man. That kid, I don't know where he's from, I don't know what school he went to, because he was guarding me and I was crashing the boards. He's a tough kid, man. He tried to keep me off the glass and he did a good job. That's all I can say. He's a tough kid, very great. He's a tough point guard or shooting guard or whatever he is."
Nothing says "I respect your great toughness" like also saying "I have no idea who you are, where you came from, what position you play or what you are doing here." Very good complimenting, Metta.
I'm guessing the league's disciplinary czars will be taking another look at this once they shake off their Super Bowl hangovers this morning, but I'm still not entirely sure what they'll see when they do, because I'm not positive I'd call it an intentional uppercut myself. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.
Video via SB Nation's Mike Prada.