It's not often that you see a flagrant foul called on an offensive player for a collision in the lane, but that's precisely what LeBron James received from the referees after crashing into Roy Hibbert during Wednesday's marquee matchup between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers:
After taking a hard hit on a prior possession that briefly left him playing with a bandage-stuffed nose, James took a cross-court feed from Dwyane Wade, knifed into the lane and made a bee-line straight for the rim. The Pacers' 7-foot-2 shotblocker slid over to protect the basket, as he's paid handsomely to do, and as James traveled right to left across the paint and attempted to double-clutch around and over Hibbert's outstretched arms, the Heat star clocked the center clean in the jaw with a right elbow.
The mid-air impact sent both players to the floor, with Hibbert clearly taking the worse of things. He writhed in pain, his head in his hands on the deck, and had difficulty getting to his feet; in fact, after being helped up, he actually went right back down to the court to take some more time to gather himself and get his bearings.
After some more time on the floor and some more help from his teammates and Indiana's training staff, Hibbert headed to the bench and eventually back to the Pacers locker room. After the referees reviewed the play, however, they elected to assess a flagrant foul-1 — his first of the season — on James, meaning Hibbert needed to head to the line for two shots. Pacers power forward David West raced to the back, recalled his center, and Hibbert made one of two free throws to cut Miami's lead to 72-70. Hibbert was promptly subbed out of the game in favor of clear-headed backup big Ian Mahinmi, but returned to the floor less than two minutes later; evidently, the Pacers' training staff felt Hibbert wasn't exhibiting symptoms of having suffered a concussion after getting blasted on the button.
While some might look at the flagrant call as a suggestion that the refs were ascribing intent to James' bell-ringing elbow, flagrant-1s are merely given out for "unnecessary" contact, per the NBA's official rulebook. You can quibble with that if you'd like if you're a Heat fan — after all, James was working as best he could to try to get a shot at the rim up over the league's preeminent restricted-area obstacle, so "necessity" might be in the eye of the beholder in terms of arm movements — but there's no quibbling about the sheer force of the shot Hibbert took.
After two straight poor offensive performances in back-to-back Pacers losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls, Hibbert continued his now-routine pounding of the Heat by finished with 21 points, four rebounds and one steal in nearly 34 minutes of play. The Pacers staged a late fourth-quarter comeback behind — who else? — Evan Turner (four points, a steal and an assist in the final 2:08) and held on for an 84-83 win over the Heat, improving their record to 52-20 and extending their lead over Miami for the top spot in the Eastern Conference to three games. West added 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the win, and while he missed eight of his 11 field goal attempts, he came up huge late, drilling a quick-hit 3-pointer — just his fourth of the season in, albeit in 13 tries — with 50 seconds left to make it a four-point game, putting things just outside Miami's reach.
James led all scorers with 38 points on 11 for 19 shooting, eight rebounds and five assists, turning in a sensational offensive performance with Pacers defensive ace Paul George (23 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals) draped all over him all night, but he didn't get a whole lot of help. Wade added 15 points and four rebounds, but the rest of the Heat combined to shoot just 11 for 31 (35.5 percent) from the field, as Miami suffered their eighth loss in their last 13 games to fall to 48-22.
Video via Ben Golliver of The Point Forward.
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