After the Indiana Pacers extended their first-round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks by notching a 95-88 victory in Game 6 on Thursday, we wondered if the two teams would enter Saturday's Game 7 without key rotation pieces after the league office had an opportunity to review the second-quarter scuffle between Hawks forward Mike Scott and Pacers guard George Hill:
While it was possible that the league would decide that primary combatants Scott and Hill required additional punishment beyond the double technical fouls they received during the game, the larger question was whether Pacers All-Star Paul George — and, to a lesser extent, Indiana reserve Rasual Butler and a couple of Hawks, including starting center Pero Antic — would receive a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during the altercation.
As I wrote Thursday, the letter of the law from the NBA's official rule book requires "all players not participating in the game [to] remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench" during an altercation. In the past, players taking any steps off the bench and toward conflict have been suspended, even if they didn't actually join the fray or get anywhere near it. The question, then, was whether the league office under new commissioner Adam Silver would favor the same strict interpretation of the rule, or if the fact that nobody on either bench took more than a couple of steps off would be good enough to keep everyone in uniform come Saturday.
We got our answer Friday afternoon:
Good job, NBA.
If you're a New York Knicks fan angry about 1997 or a Phoenix Suns fan still burning over 2007, I hear you, and I won't blame you if you're mad that the Pacers and Hawks won't receive the same punishment your favorite squads did. But two wrongs don't make a right, as the old saying goes, and this seems to me to be a common-sense application of the rule.
No player left the "immediate vicinity" of the bench; there were a couple of steps forward, and then everyone either stood in place or got held back. Not only was this not a serious violation of the rule in question, it was actually the rule working as intended. No harm, no foul, on either side of the coin or the court. The league's disciplinary czars saw it the same way, and as a result, both teams get to head into Game 7 at full strength. (Or, I suppose, as close to full strength as can be without an injured Al Horford and a vanished Roy Hibbert.) Whatever happens in Game 7, neither team (or fan base) will have the ready-made excuse of having entered battle without one of their most important pieces, and we're going to be able to watch the players decide the outcome on the court, which is all we could ask for. Again: Good work, NBA, and game on.
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