DETROIT -- So it turns out the NBA might actually think LeBron James is a master of kung fu.
James was called for a flagrant foul-one during the fourth quarter of the Heat’s loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday and the league reviewed the play and determined James’ flying elbow to Roy Hibbert’s jaw received the appropriate call from officials. A flagrant-one, according to the NBA rulebook, is “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.”
James’ flagrant foul came after he had been hammered a few times by the Pacers’ defenders near the basket. The atmosphere felt more like the playoffs rather than a regular-season game in late March. One two occasions, officials reviewed personal fouls against James to determine whether or not they deserved an upgrade to flagrant. James also went 14 of 15 from the free-throw line.
Afterward, James was asked if his elbow on Hibbert was retaliation for earlier fouls.
“If I could jump in the air, elbow somebody in the face and still try to finish the play, I must be a kung fu master or something,” James said. “His face happened to hit my elbow, or my elbow happened to hit his face.”
James received a cutting pass from Dwyane Wade in the lane, and in transferring the ball from his right hand to the his left, James’ elbow connected squarely with Hibbert’s jaw. Hibbert, a beneficiary of the league’s “rule of verticality,” had elevated to defend the play. His jaw absorbed James’ elbow in midair and Hibbert crashed to the floor like a prizefighter.
Hibbert remained on the court for a few seconds before attempting to stand. He then stumbled back to the court before being helped off the court. Hibbert returned to the court to finish the game, but later told reporters that he doesn’t remember being elbow by James. Pacers coach Frank Vogel, however, said Hibbert did not sustain a concussion.
James said after the game that he felt like the Pacers were targeting him when he drove into the lane and that some of those perceived fouls were going uncalled.
It should be noted, of course, that James set season highs for free throws and attempted free throws Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In other words, James made a point to establish an offensive presence inside rather than avoid the contact.
Heat forward Chris Bosh seemed to take more offense to his teammate’s offensive charge being called a flagrant foul than James himself. It’s no secret that opponents of the Heat — and, namely, the Pacers and Bulls — have tried for several seasons to slow down the Heat’s offense with physical play inside the paint.
The strategy — not to mention the Heat’s rhetoric regarding hard fouls — is only expected to intensify in the playoffs.
“Our guys are getting punched in the face, man,” Bosh said. “You know what I’m saying? We’re getting punched in the face and clotheslined. And we’re getting two shots.
“And we get an offensive foul called and it’s a flagrant. I guess maybe we need to really decipher what flagrant means, because I don’t feel that they were going for the ball. If you come down and clothesline somebody, it’s open season. And people are going to get hurt.
“LeBron got punched in the face and clotheslined.”
Wade is questionable for Friday’s game against the Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Wade checked himself out of the end of Wednesday’s game with a leg injury after grabbing at his left hamstring. Wade has missed 19 games this season.
“I felt spasms and cramping, so I just had to get off it,” Wade said. “We were playing a good game the last minute and a half. That’s winning time, so it’s very tough sitting over there.
“I thought my teammates got good opportunities. It just didn’t happen for us. I tried, but once it cramps up, it’s not going to stop right away.”