Jason Williams may have made his most influential play of the NBA Finals in Game 4 – albeit unwittingly – when he waited for Shaquille O'Neal to catch up to him, fed him for a possible dunk and then watched as Jerry Stackhouse clocked O'Neal on his way to the rim.
At the time, Miami Heat coach Pat Riley was upset with his point guard, who had a clear path to the hoop for an easy layin. But now that Stackhouse has been suspended for Game 5 by the league for his flagrant foul on Shaq, Riley might want to call Williams and congratulate him. The Heat already had plenty of momentum, but now they have a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 series lead over the Dallas Mavericks.
Stackhouse is Dallas' toughest player, and for a team that was physically manhandled in Thursday's 98-74 defeat, his loss is crucial. He is the Mavs' leading scorer off the bench and a guy who is always in the game at crunch time. In his absence, Marquis Daniels should step in and play some major minutes for Avery Johnson.
As for the NBA's decision to suspend Stackhouse, I don't believe the league made a good decision. Yes, Stackhouse's foul was hard, but he raced back on defense, caught up to O'Neal and fouled him hard to force him to make two free throws. That's what you're supposed to do as a player, particularly in the playoffs. There are no easy baskets, especially when the guy you're fouling is such a poor free-throw shooter.
What about Jason Terry's punch of Michael Finley in the Western Conference semifinals? That was a punch, which is an automatic suspension – no questions asked. Even the suspension of Udonis Haslem for firing his mouthpiece at referee Joey Crawford during the first round made sense because the officials have to be protected. And James Posey's blatant crosscheck of Kirk Hinrich in Game 3 of the Bulls-Heat series warranted at least a one-game suspension, if not two. Posey lined up Hinrich and made a premeditated hit on him while he was dribbling out on the floor, not driving for a layup.
The one controversial play in the playoffs that did not result in a suspension, ironically enough, was when Reggie Evans grabbed Chris Kaman's, uh, nuggets, so to speak, in the Denver-Clippers series. Evans got off with a $10,000 fine. Go figure. All I know is that NBA fans deserve to see the two best teams battle it out for the championship with the best players on the floor.
If Stackhouse punched somebody or pulled a Raja Bell, by all means, he should be sidelined. But to suspend him for a hard foul in the NBA Finals? The league should have fined Stackhouse – say $10K, like Evans – but made a distinction between what he did and the premeditated, dirty plays that Bell and Posey made.