Tempers finally flared in Game 5 of a physical Eastern Conference Finals as Chris Andersen and Tyler Hansbrough faced off early in the 2nd quarter. The incident was initiated entirely by Andersen, who was somehow not ejected.
Let us review the play (as the officials did during the game):
1. Birdman shoulder-tackles Hansbrough to the ground.
2. Birdman gets into Hansbrough’s face as he regains his feet.
3. Birdman shoves Hansbrough with both hands and full force.
The chest push was a carbon copy of Nazr Mohammed’s on LeBron James three weeks ago.
While Nazr Mohammed was ejected for the shove alone, Birdman got away with a category-one flagrant foul and remained in the game. It is unclear whether the flagrant was assessed for the shoulder tackle or the shove—arguably, BOTH plays were flagrant-two worthy. Once again, NBA playoff officiating comes off looking inconsistent at best—and shady at worst.
Andersen will likely be suspended for Game 6, which will only confirm the officials’ ham-handed handling of the play.
Though it is an inexact science determining how the flow of the game might have differed had Andersen been ejected, it should be noted that his help defense and venomous block of a Hansbrough jumphook on the very next play not only prevented an easy Indiana basket, but also woke up the passive home crowd and injected some life into the Heat. Later, his 14-foot jumper would give Miami a 13-point 4th quarter lead. Alas, by this time the Pacers had already been hurt by another crucial blown call on an out-of-bounds play.
Meanwhile, one has to wonder what would have happened if Hansbrough had taken the LeBron approach, stumbling backwards, collapsing to the ground like he’d been shot and sliding ten feet across the floor. Perhaps the refs would have reacted differently. Perhaps this only confirms the sad reality of the way the game is officiated today: flopping is rewarded, and failing to flop can cost your team.