By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 17, 2006
MIAMI, June 16 -- Shaquille O'Neal said the third-quarter flagrant foul by Jerry Stackhouse in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday was weaker than a tackle from his young daughters when he comes home. Stackhouse's hard heave, however, was solid enough to warrant a one-game suspension from the league.
After reviewing the play and discussing the details with both players, league officials decided late Friday to suspend Stackhouse for Game 5 on Sunday in Miami. "The contact by Jerry Stackhouse was clearly excessive and warrants a suspension," NBA vice president and league disciplinarian Stu Jackson said in a statement.
With the Miami Heat leading the Dallas Mavericks by 17 points in the third quarter of Game 4, O'Neal caught a pass from point guard Jason Williams for what should have been an easy dunk, but Stackhouse cracked O'Neal with a forearm to the chest, sending him to the floor. "It was a hard foul. I mean, he was going to the basket," Stackhouse said after the game. "When Shaq is going to the basket, we want to try to make him go to the free throw line and earn it."
O'Neal made both free throws and mocked Stackhouse afterward, saying: "I'm one of the last players of the old school, and you know, you just have to take a hard foul like that and keep on moving. It actually felt pretty good to get hit like that. Thank you, Jerry. Appreciate it."
This is the third suspension for Dallas this postseason. Point guard Jason Terry received a one-game suspension for punching San Antonio's Michael Finley in the groin during the Western Conference semifinals and reserve DJ Mbenga just completed a five-game suspension for entering the stands to aid Mavericks Coach Avery Johnson's wife, Cassandra, during the conference finals. Mbenga will return for Game 5, but Johnson would love to have Stackhouse, too.
Stackhouse, a former Wizard, is the Mavericks' top scorer off the bench and is averaging 13 points this series. Through the first two games, Stackhouse had outscored the Heat's reserves, 32-22, and blew open Game 2 when he scored 10 consecutive points in the final 79 seconds of the first half of the Mavericks' 99-85 victory.
Johnson aired his frustrations over Stackhouse's suspension on his weekly radio show in Dallas. "It's just a bunch of baloney," he said, telling his radio audience that O'Neal was being protected by the league. "It's been around forever -- certain players get royal treatment, certain players don't."
Neither the Heat nor the Mavericks practiced on Friday. Both teams need time to rest -- and to cool off after a hotly contested game. Some bad blood is brewing between the teams, setting the stage for what should be a physical Game 5 on Sunday.
"Don't be surprised if it's a little more testy the next game," Mavericks reserve guard Darrell Armstrong told reporters in the locker room after Game 4.
With the Heat evening this series at two games with a 98-74 victory, the true physical battle has begun. "I think it just sort of grows," Heat Coach Pat Riley said on Friday. "This is the fifth game now, and all of the sort of niceties and genuine respect that each side has for one another dissipates with the competition and as we get closer to the result and the outcome. It always happens, it always happens in all sports."
Meantime, Heat forwards James Posey and Udonis Haslem smothered forward Dirk Nowitzki -- Johnson said "the Heat put a blanket over him" -- while O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning protected the rim and contested Nowitzki's drives to the basket, limiting him to just 2-of-14 shooting. Johnson said the Heat's defense on Nowitzki was like "playground basketball . . . because you can't expect somebody to bail you out."
Johnson challenged the "vacation mentality" of his team since it arrived in Miami with a 2-0 lead. He reportedly switched the team's hotel and said that in spite of Stackhouse's hard foul on O'Neal, only one team is playing with physical intensity, but not "the team from Texas."
Armstrong and Mavericks forward Josh Howard were among those who thought Heat guard Dwyane Wade's ailments were grossly exaggerated, especially after Wade scored 42 points and 36 points in the past two games. Wade said he wasn't faking the sore left knee he received when O'Neal fell on his leg in the third quarter of Game 3.
"It's whatever, man," Wade said. "It's the Finals. We're not best friends. We could care less what they say, and they could care less what we say until the Finals are over. Right now, it's two teams battling each other and going to war."