Kevin Love explains why he left the bench during the Cavaliers-Warriors skirmish

Remember when TV viewers reported PGA golfers for technicalities? This is the NBA version of that.

With 2.6 seconds remaining in overtime of a Game 1 that was well in the Golden State Warriors’ hands, Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson senselessly fouled Shaun Livingston on a garbage-time jump shot, earning himself an ejection from the Finals opener. Warriors forward Draymond Green, ever the instigator, baited Thompson by clapping in his space, earning himself a basketball to the face.

While referees sorted through the ensuing kerfuffle, ultimately settling on a Flagrant 2 foul for Thompson and no other penalty, some folks at home were busy reviewing the play themselves:

Cavs forward Kevin Love was on the court during the dustup when he should’ve been on the bench.

Kevin Love wasn’t joining the fight

Of course, video replay shows that Love, who was not in the game, was already on the court when Livingston shot the ball, well before the shoving match, treating this like the exercise in futility it was.

After Thompson’s ejection and before Green baited him, Love walked further onto the court, clearly arguing the call. As soon as things turned physical, Love turned from the action, and Cavs assistant Jim Boylan led him back to the bench, making sure his presence on the court wasn’t misinterpreted.

And that’s exactly how Love explained it to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols afterwards:

Love just wanted to get the attention of referee Tony Brothers, who was at the scorer’s table, trying to clear up the sort of confusion we often see in games refereed by Tony Brothers. After all, Thompson’s foul to Livingston’s arm didn’t seem to warrant an ejection usually reserved for blows to the head.

Kevin Love returned to play Game 1 of the NBA Finals after a one-game absence for a concussion. (AP)
Kevin Love returned to play Game 1 of the NBA Finals after a one-game absence for a concussion. (AP)

Does Love really face a suspension?

According to NBA rules, “During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.” There’s no doubt Love was in the immediate vicinity of the bench.

And the NBA ruled accordingly:

An NBA history of leaving the bench

Really, the reason we look to the bench now when there’s a “fight” is because of the suspensions issued to Amare Stoudemire and Raja Bell after they came to the defense of Phoenix Suns teammate Steve Nash at the tail end of Game 4 in the 2007 Western Conference finals. The ruling cost the Seven Seconds or Less Suns a loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 and their best shot at a Finals.

That decision came during NBA commissioner David Stern’s tenure. The ruling parties under his successor Adam Silver have been a more benevolent bunch, as they proved by foregoing a suspension for Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook earlier in the playoffs. Westbrook left the bench to confront Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in the fourth quarter of a Game 4 blowout in the second round:

The NBA instead fined Westbrook $10,000 and issued an after-the-fact technical foul, and his actions were far more egregious than Love’s. Given this precedent, it would have been ridiculous to ban Love.

As for Thompson, the NBA reviews every flagrant foul, so any change to the Flagrant 2 call against him should come Friday, as should a ruling on whether his shove to Green’s face warrants a penalty.

While we’re at it, so long as someone doesn’t leave the bench to actively participate in a skirmish, we shouldn’t even have to wonder if it would result in a suspension. The PGA stopped taking calls from TV viewers who reported technicalities, and it’s time the NBA changes its leave-the-bench rule, too.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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