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Ball Don't Lie

Ring the alarm: John Wall and Big Z are throwin’ elbows

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

(That's such dirrty play. And that's such a timely reference. I'm such a dope.)

Noted hothead and malcontent Zydrunas Ilgauskas flew off the handle again Wednesday night, as the Miami Heat reserve center's prickly demeanor, legendary deviousness and total lack of on-court decorum raised the ire of Washington Wizards rookie John Wall. If I've asked the question once, I've asked it 100 times: When will we as a basketball-watching culture stand up and demand an end to Big Z's reign of terror?

The awkward square-off came with just under nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, with the Wiz up a point on the visiting Heat. Sarah Schorno Kogod gives us the blow-by-blow at NBC Washington's Capital Games:

While guarding Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the second quarter, the usually subdued John Wall took two elbows to the head. The first one he was able to shrug off, but the second got to him, so he retaliated by taking a swing and landing a body shot on Ilgauskas. That started a scuffle.

As JaVale McGee came to break it up, Juwan Howard shoved him, setting off a second scuffle and forcing the coaches and players to clear the benches to separate the teams.

(The matter of Juwan Howard's involvement in things has been handled ably, as always, by Trey Kerby at The Basketball Jones. Nothing more need be said there, as far as I'm concerned.)

After the dust settled, the refs huddled to dole out punishment. After about 10 minutes of conferencing and watching replays, the verdicts, via Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press: "Wall and Ilgauskas each was assessed a flagrant foul-2 and ejected. Howard was called for a technical foul and ejected for escalation; McGee was called for a technical but allowed to stay in the game."

As Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel noted, Ilgauskas and Howard for Wall is "a trade the Heat would make every time." Unfortunately, it doesn't work in the Trade Machine because of Juwan and Z's contracts. There's always a wrinkle, especially when you're talking about Ol' Man Howard's furrowed brow.

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While Wall and Ilgauskas got the gate for receiving flagrant-2s rather than "fighting" or "punching" fouls, the league office will undoubtedly take a closer look at the sequence, which could lead to a changed call and some additional discipline. According to Section VI of Rule No. 12A ("Fouls and Penalties") of the Official Rules of the National Basketball Association, commissioner David Stern can hit fighters with fines "not exceeding $50,000 and/or suspension."

Interestingly, the rule specifically covering "punching fouls" mandates a one-game minimum suspension, with additional games and fines coming at the commissioner's discretion. That raises a question: Did John Wall really throw a punch? I'd say no.

Checking the video again, it looks like an elbow or forearm shiver to me; Wall certainly didn't lead with his fist. Wizards coach Flip Saunders spun it that way, too, telling Wizards beat man Michael Lee of the Washington Post that he's hopeful Wall won't receive more punishment from the league because from "what the referees said, I don't think it warrants it because it was just elbows that were thrown, not punches."

It probably doesn't much matter one way or the other — Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin is almost certainly right that suspensions are on the way, and no matter how you define Wall's offense, he's getting dinged.

Still, in the interest of getting things right, Wall's retaliation seemed to me to be just that, repaying in kind Ilgauskas' elbows and returning like for like, albeit more forcefully and more obviously. (You've got to hide 'em better than that, youngblood. Classic rookie mistake.)

Ilgauskas didn't comment on the altercation after the game, though he did manage to share some "obscene arm gestures" with the crowd as he left the court, according to the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman, which I'm sure will please the commish to no end. Wall, however, did talk about the donnybrook, as reported by the Post's Lee:

Wall said he was shaken by the first elbow, which hit him square in the face, but he responded by going harder after the ball. But when Ilgauskas swung his arm around to hit him again with the left, he snapped. Wall wasn't merely trying to protect his face, but also his reputation -- since he doesn't want to be seen as someone who will back down. "Second one, I got hit and I reacted," Wall said. [...]

"I'm disappointed with how I reacted to it. I let my teammates. I let my organization down."

While Wizards fans applauded Wall as he headed back to the locker room for standing up for himself, it's good that he recognizes he didn't do a smart thing — as he told Lee, protecting one another is great, "but [...] we've got to be better and just get a technical or try to get nothing, try not to get ejected out of the game." Otherwise, you leave your team (which stinks) shorthanded against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (who are good). That's a recipe for an eventual 123-107 defeat.

Video of the tiff via Ben Golliver.

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