Charlotte Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts only received a common personal foul for this collision with LeBron James late in the fourth quarter of Game 2 against the Miami Heat, which is weird, because the whole "forearm to the throat" thing doesn't seem super common:
With the Heat holding a 97-94 lead over the feisty Bobcats, James isolated up top against the defense of sophomore Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. James went left around a Chris Bosh screen, beat the step-slow trap by a hobbled Al Jefferson (who started despite straining the plantar fascia in his left foot in Sunday's Game 1 loss and stayed in Game 2 despite feeling it rip a little more in the early going) and headed toward the basket. As he arrived and elevated with Kidd-Gilchrist on his right hip, McRoberts slid over from the left corner, where he had been guarding Mario Chalmers, and leapt to meet LeBron in the air. In the process, he thwacked James in the throat with his right forearm, sending the reigning MVP to the deck holding his neck on the baseline and struggling to catch his breath.
The referees didn't call it a flagrant foul — assessed on plays featuring "unnecessary and/or excessive contact," according to the NBA's rulebook — on the floor. That meant that they couldn't review the play to determine whether it deserved that distinction and the penalties that go along with it — two free throws and the ball for a flagrant-1; two free throws, the ball and an automatic ejection for McRoberts for a flagrant-2 — or whether to downgrade it to a common foul. Instead, they called it common from the jump, leaving McRoberts in the game as James composed himself and stepped to the line for his free throws.
James missed the first and made the second, making it a two-possession game, but Charlotte regained possession. After a miss by point guard Kemba Walker, James made an awkward and off-target pass for a turnover; on the ensuing Bobcats possession, Walker hit a 3-pointer that cut the lead to one at 98-97. James did bounce back to make a pair of big freebies after a Gary Neal foul with 10 seconds left, and Charlotte's final possession fizzled — thanks in part to James picking up Walker and preventing him from getting the ball on the inbounds, and in part on Neal dribbling into the defense, pump-faking and handing the ball to a well-covered Chris Douglas-Roberts, who had the ball ripped out of his hands by Dwyane Wade — to eliminate the Bobcats' late-game threat and lock down a 101-97 win that gives Miami a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series, which will head to North Carolina for Game 3 on Saturday.
It wouldn't be very surprising for Steve Clifford's club to be without McRoberts in that contest, once the league office gets another few looks at the tape of the foul. The NBA referenced flagrant fouls, and specifically contact above the shoulders, as one of its officiating points of emphasis this postseason (check the 10:45 mark of the video clip). McRoberts never gets his arms up to contest the shot or make a play on the ball; he just slides over, jumps up and puts his right forearm into James' throat. It might not quite have been Tito Santana-level intentional, but it happened, and it could very well cost the 27-year-old forward — who is averaging 11.5 points, four rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes per game in this series, shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from 3-point land — a chance to make an impact at Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday.
For his part, McRoberts seemed to shrug the play off after the game:
Josh McRoberts on foul: "I think it looked worse than what it was.... It wasn't intentional."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 24, 2014
And James declined opportunities to call for additional punishment:
Interviewed LeBron postgame, he shrugged off whether that forearm he got to the neck should have been a flagrant: "it's the playoffs"— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 24, 2014
LeBron on the McRoberts hit: "It was a foul, but I didn't know if it was going to be a flagrant or not." Says he doesn't need to see it.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 24, 2014
LeBron: "I got elbowed in the throat. That's the contact. It's not a very good feeling."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 24, 2014
Well, I'm glad we could establish that it wasn't a good feeling. At least that's cleared up.
James finished with 32 points on 11 for 17 shooting, eight assists, six rebounds, four steals and four turnovers in 40 minutes. Chris Bosh added 20 points on 8 for 11 shooting, including a 4 for 5 mark from 3-point land, to go with five rebounds, while Wade chipped in 15 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 35 minutes of work.
The Bobcats fell behind early, with Jefferson laboring due to his bum left wheel and guards Walker, Neal and Gerald Henderson combining to shoot 2 for 12 in the first quarter. But as the game wore on, Clifford's charges roared back, thanks in large part to a huge game from former No. 2 overall pick Kidd-Gilchrist (22 points on 9 for 13 shooting, 10 rebounds, two assists, strong work on James), a gutty performance by Jefferson (18 points, albeit on 9 for 23 shooting, and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes) and timely shooting by Walker, who went 4 for 9 from downtown en route to a 16-point, eight-assist outing. But the effort came up just short, and now Miami will have a chance to put Charlotte in an 0-3 hole on Saturday.
Video via Ben Golliver of The Point Forward.
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