The National Basketball Association will not suspend center Ralph Sampson for the remainder of the championship series, but an NBA official said today the league is still reviewing the brawl that led to Sampson's ejection Thursday night in Game 5.
"Fines are a definite possibility and probably will be announced Monday," Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of operations, told the Associated Press, adding that Sampson would not be suspended. "We are still reviewing and compiling information."
Sampson was sent to the dressing room with 9:40 to go in the second quarter after a bench-clearing fight began between Sampson and Celtics guard Jerry Sichting. The Rockets went on to beat Boston, 111-96, and cut the Celtics' lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-2. Game 6 will be played Sunday in Boston.
After Thursday's game, Houston reserve Jim Petersen told anyone within earshot that, "The series is now 3-2. I'd say it's even."
Petersen had his own perspective on the second-quarter brawl that led to Sampson's dismissal. "People were saying Ralph was timid in the first two games. I think he took offense at that," he said. "I think they were surprised when he was taking them on three at a time and bloodying them up."
Boston guard Dennis Johnson, a veteran of 131 playoff games, had a different reaction. With a gash from the altercation on the left side of his face, Johnson said: "There just may be more. You've got to do whatever it takes to win. Lumps were made to be taken and to be given."
Sichting, after getting an elbow in the head from Sampson as the teams came down court, to the Celtics' end, found himself mismatched in the low post against the 7-foot-4 Rocket. Sichting, who is 6-1, pushed and grabbed at the taller player to slow him up and Sampson responded by turning and punching him, leading to the melee.
Surprisingly, at the end of the game, one of the calmest of those involved was Sampson.
"The NBA isn't that kind of league, and I'm sorry I made it look bad on national television," he said. "I was emotional in the game, and I will continue to be emotional throughout the series, but there'll be no fighting."
At practice today, Sampson said: "I was provoked. It was in the excitement of the game . . . Fighting is a thing where you protect yourself. Nobody likes to do it. I know that I didn't want to be watching the game. I'd rather have played. I'm not looking to fight in Boston. I'll stay in the game this time. The only way to get me out is to call six fouls on me."
During each of Houston's three playoff series -- against Denver, Los Angeles and Boston -- either Sampson or teammate Akeem Olajuwon has been ejected for fighting.
"It's going to happen," said Houston Coach Bill Fitch about the altercations. "It's not because of the championship. You'll see it in Detroit in the 40th game of the season, too. I don't know what the answer is. I think the league does a good job of keeping them down to the few we have."
When order was restored after the incident, Sampson, the Rockets' captain, was the only player ejected, a decision that didn't sit well with most of those in the sellout crowd of 16,016 at the Summit, but it was one even Fitch couldn't argue with.
"The official Jack Madden said he had no other way to go, that even before any of the other fighting started in his mind, Ralph was gone," Fitch said. "I listened to what Madden said he saw happening out there and then I went into the dressing room and watched the films at halftime and he described it exactly the way it happened."
In the visitors' locker room afterward, it was apparent the Celtics' sense of humor was intact. Sichting said he didn't understand why people wanted him ejected "for throwing my forehead at his fists."
Boston forward Larry Bird was also unimpressed by Sampson's move. "I don't pick on 6-1 guys. I would never pick on a 6-1 guy," he said. "I can't believe he went after Sichting. My girlfriend could beat Jerry up."
Coach K.C. Jones was more concerned with his team's play following the incident. "There are no words I can say to explain why we went the other way," he said. "It got so bad that in the second half I didn't even have to coach."
After Sampson's dismissal, the Rockets scored seven straight points and, by halftime, were up by 11. In the third quarter, they padded their lead by another 10 points. An 8-0 run by the Celtics midway through the fourth quarter cut the margin to 98-85, but, after Houston scored the next three points, Jones emptied his bench.
The overall picture decidedly favors the Celtics, however. For starters, the team is returning to its home court, where it was 40-1 during the regular season and is 9-0 during the playoffs. Now the Celtics even have a revenge motive, as if they needed further inspiration.
"This game showed that anything goes when you're playing for a championship," said Johnson. "Well, anything goes back there, too."