The chippiness that has been present throughout Indiana’s Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Miami Heat boiled over in Tuesday’s Game 5 in the form of several flagrant fouls. And two of them drew suspensions from the league late Wednesday.
Udonis Haslem will miss Thursday’s Game 6 in Indianapolis for hammering Tyler Hansbrough in the face with both hands on a shot attempt. Dexter Pittman’s hard elbow to the throat of Lance Stephenson earned him a three-game suspension.
Pittman was averaging all of 3.5 minutes in the two games in which he’s played this postseason, but the loss of Haslem could be critical for Miami. He scored 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting in the Heat’s Game 4 victory and was the only player outside of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to crack double figures.
Speaking of James, the three-time MVP said he’s bracing himself for more physical play when the Heat try to close out the series Thursday night. Meantime, the Pacers will try to shed the “S-O-F-T” tag team president Larry Bird gave them after their blowout loss in Game 5.
“I’m always in protect mode,” James said. “For me, in the playoffs or the regular season, there are teams trying to go for me. It’s happened. I’m not saying guys are playing dirty, but certain guys say if you hard foul LeBron, get him off balance, he’ll stop being aggressive and things like that.”
Pacers winger Danny Granger has made no effort to hide his efforts to rattle James and Wade, and he earned technical fouls in Games 2, 3 and 4 as a result of trash-talking after plays.
“I think there is a line, and I’m tiptoeing it, honestly,” Granger said after Game 4. “But I think that’s just the product of the chip I have on my shoulder that we have on our team of not being respected.”
After watching his teammates absorb hard fouls from Haslem and Pittman on Tuesday night, Granger said the Heat had crossed that line. He did not practice Wednesday with a sprained ankle suffered in Game 5 but told Fox Sports Midwest that he will play in tonight’s elimination game.
As for the tone of the contest, James expects another physical battle — but don’t expect him to take the bait Granger and company have been offering.
“We all protect one another,” James said. “We don’t do anything that’s retaliation or anything that’s dirty. We just want to protect each other out on the floor no matter what’s going on. We’re not here to fight. We’re just here to play basketball.”
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