What we have here is Brian Cardinal, a reserve forward with the Dallas Mavericks who looks like your dad, setting a strong, rattling pick on Patty Mills, a reserve guard with the Portland Trail Blazers who looks like a pretty smart dude with those glasses, in the final minute of the Mavs' 93-82 win over the Blazers in Game 5 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series on Monday night. That much is crystal clear; that much is not in dispute.
What is up for debate, however, is whether or not said play was dirty. The Blazers sure seem to think it was, according to The Oregonian's Jason Quick:
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews sought out Cardinal after the game and had a few choice words for him at halfcourt, during which Mavericks reserve DeShawn Stevenson interjected. Matthews and Stevenson exchanged pointed expletives from about 10 feet apart before Stevenson was bear-hugged by a teammate and pushed toward the Dallas locker room.
"I know it's the playoffs and everything, but come on,'' Matthews said. "With four seconds left in the game? But that's cool. I'm not going to forget it, that's for sure.'' [...]
Mills said the Blazers players felt it was a "cheap" play by the Mavericks. [...]
"At that point in the game, I don't know … I don't know if you do that when you are up that much,'' Mills said.
Unsurprisingly, Cardinal saw the play differently. He told Sekou Smith at NBA.com's Hang Time blog that he was "surprised [the Blazers] are so mad about it," considering how hard they were playing as the clock ran out:
Cardinal said he wouldn't have done anything other than watch the final seconds click off the clock if Mills hadn't picked Barea up full court and been so aggressive with the game already decided. [...]
"If they are mad," Cardinal said, "they should be mad at [Earl Barron], [Nicolas Batum] or whoever else was in the game, for not calling out that screen."
As of 8:45 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, about 2,350 readers of the fantastic blog Blazersedge had cast their votes as to the relative cleanliness of the play. Cheap shot? Fifty percent. All's fair? Forty-nine percent.
On a Blazer-friendly blog, that's pretty remarkable. And while I'm not going to get all gleeful on the opposing side, it also seems about right to me.
While the waning moments of a double-digit win are usually run at quarter-speed, with players on both sides content just to hit the showers, as ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin noted, "Portland defenders kept pushing [and] trying to force a turnover without fouling." Playing pesky and aggressive, then getting mad when the opponent's pesky and aggressive play lands you on the seat of your pants, seems a bit off. And Cardinal's 100 percent right about one thing: If Mills is going to be ticked at anyone, it ought to be the teammates that failed to notify him that he was about to slam headlong into a 6-foot-8 dude.
That said, while there's absolutely nothing illegal about the screen, I can certainly understand Blazers fans, protective of their own, thinking the Mavs could have closed things out without the bell-ringing. It's an unnecessary physical play that sends a message, and I can't blame about half of the people for not particularly appreciating that message. It's not a foul, but I can see the argument that it's, in a sense, "cheap."
Hopefully, we all get lucky and this turns an end-of-the-bench big into a venom-receiving villain in the Pacific Northwest come Game 6 on Thursday. More people should feel passionately, one way or the other, about Brian Cardinal.
Original video via Ben Golliver.