It started with a few chops to the forearm and a handful of missed shots.
Before Friday’s contest at Verizon Center between the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls, Nene had gone to the free-throw line and been showered with praise for his effective mid-range jumper. But in Game 3, with the home crowd clamoring for another big performance, Nene was met with Joakim Noah’s best defensive effort of the series and a cold shooting hand that caused him to miss 10 of his 15 shot attempts.
So by the time Nene elbowed Jimmy Butler on his way downcourt following a made basket with 8:28 to play, to which Butler responded by nudging Nene in the waist, the frustrations had brimmed to steady boil before the Wizards forward rammed his forehead into Butler’s while grabbing his neck.
What happened after that and how the NBA office will levy punishment has now become as great of a concern as how the Wizards respond following their first loss of these young playoffs.
It’s a given that Nene will at least be fined for his inflammatory role in Friday’s altercation, but whether or not he is suspended is up to the NBA. But Nene might not be the only one in trouble. There was some debate as to whether Marcin Gortat left the bench area during the scuffle. Since the Bulls were charged with calling a timeout immediately following Nene’s basket, Gortat, along with all the bench players and coaches, would be allowed to come onto the floor. But should the NBA deem that Gortat was making his way onto the court before or during the moment the timeout was called, the Wizards center would automatically be suspended for one game, according to NBA rules.
Both are judgement calls but by comparison, take the case of Charlotte’s Josh McRoberts. In Game 2 versus Miami, the Bobcats forward threw a forearm to the nose of LeBron James but rather than being whistled for a flagrant foul during the game or being suspended afterward, McRoberts was fined $20,000.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 24, 2014
Playing without one or both of their starting big men could obviously be catastrophic for the Wizards in what’s now a must-win Game 4. Playing with one or both of them still doesn’t leave the Wizards in the clear, as the Bulls are apparently intent on trying to mentally rattle and discourage Washington’s players in what’s sure to be an intense environment. But both Nene and his teammates said they are prepared to move forward if necessary:
Nene: “You can’t control when you play physical, things get hot. It’s over. The whole team is thinking about game four and stepping up for real in a big series. … It’s over. We need to move (on); that’s what I’m doing. Now we need to come here and play the right [way] in Game 4 and forget about what happened. It’s all I can do, control what I can control.”
John Wall: “I just leave that up to the refs. I was on the bench and really couldn’t see what happened. They made the call and you just have to respect it. We still gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Trevor Ariza: “Nene is a big part of what we do, especially down the stretch, so not having in the game, it hurt us a little bit. But it is what it is, things happen in the game and you just have to find ways to win it. … [We can’t be] really worried about what’s going on with the referees or anything like that. Just come out and play our game.”
Coach Randy Wittman: “[Losing Nene] hurt, but we stayed in the battle and gave ourselves an opportunity coming down the stretch.”