Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the NBA hasn’t done enough to protect Dwyane Wade and LeBron James against overly aggressive fouls to their heads.
Countering the NBA’s decision to suspend Udonis Haslem for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday night, Spoelstra directed strong words at the NBA for allowing opponents to take dangerous shots at Miami’s best players. After reviewing film of nine playoff games, Spoelstra said he counted “over a dozen hard fouls” to the faces of Wade and James by the Knicks and Pacers.
“The league does not have a problem with hard fouls on our two main guys,” Spoelstra said. “Some of them of the tomahawk variety, some of them have drawn blood — they don’t have a problem with it, so we don’t have a problem with it.”
Spoelstra said the Heat disagreed with the NBA’s decision to suspend Haslem for Game 6. Haslem was one of three players to receive flagrant fouls in Game 5 of the Heat’s best-of-7 second-round series with the Pacers. Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough and Heat reserve center also were whistled for flagrant fouls.
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After reviewing film of Game 5, the NBA upgraded all three flagrant-1 fouls to flagrant-2 infractions. Pittman was suspended three games for his hard foul on Pacers reserve Lance Stephenson. Haslem was suspended one game for his shot to Hansbrough’s head. Hansbrough was not suspended.
“We totally support U.D. as a player and as a family member,” Spoelstra said. “He has supported his teammates and this Miami family for nine years. His reputation speaks for itself.
“He’s a hardnosed player, a physical player, who is a clean player and he doesn’t play over that line. This is a physical series.”
But, in the opinion of the NBA, Haslem did go over the line when he hammered Hansbrough in the face and shoulder with both arms. Less than a minute earlier, Hansbrough was whistled for his flagrant foul when he raked his fingernails across Wade’s face during drive to the basket. Haslem’s foul was seen as retaliatory.
“You got to understand that, yeah, when you feel someone is taking a hit at one of your guys, your first initial reaction is that you want to get them back; you want to retaliate,” Wade said. “As you see, it doesn’t always work. It’s always the second guy that gets in trouble and never the first.”
James raised a another point before Thursday’s morning shoot around when he intimated that if officials had originally gotten the call correct on Hansbrough’s foul, then Haslem would not have been suspended.
“They just upgraded [Hansbrough’s] flagrant-1 to a flagrant-2, which if that’s the case, if it’s a flagrant-2 to start with, then [Haslem] would have never fouled him, which means [Haslem] would have never got suspended,” James said. “I mean, Hansbrough, it’s not the first time he’s went after one of players this year. We got two guys suspended and basically they have no guys suspended.”
While Spoelstra made it clear he didn’t agree with the NBA’s decision to suspend Haslem, the Heat’s coach accepted the league’s ruling on Pittman’s foul. After leaving his feet to deliver an elbow to Stephenson’s neck, Pittman was caught on camera winking at the Heat’s bench. In Game 3, Stephenson raised the ire of the Heat when he made a choking gesture after James missed a free throw.