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NBA should have come down harder on Dexter Pittman

Updated: May 24, 2012 2:44PM

Once NBA Commissioner David Stern sifted through the flagrant fouls, flailing arms, blood, bruises, excuses and extracurricular winking from the mayhem of Tuesday night’s Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers game, he made a sound decision that didn’t go quite far enough:

He suspended Miami forward Udonis Haslem, who clobbered Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough on his shoulders and face, for Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. That was the right call.

He also suspended Miami center Dexter Pittman for three games for sending a ferocious elbow into the neck and shoulders of Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. That was not the right call. It was far too lenient. Pittman should have received at least seven games, the same punishment that Metta World Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers was given last month by Stern for a similar forearm shiver. It should be an eye for an eye, an elbow for an elbow, in today’s NBA.

Not only did Pittman get off with less than half the suspension World Peace did, the villain formerly known as Ron Artest got off relatively easy himself. When he sent a violent elbow crashing into the head of James Harden in a regular-season game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was lucky to get only seven games. Less than a week earlier, the NHL suspended Phoenix Coyotes goon Raffi Torres for 25 games, all the way into next season, for leaving his feet to attack the head of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa.

In this era of heightened concern about concussions, Stern should have been just as tough on World Peace, and on Pittman. Neither should have been allowed to play another second in this year’s playoffs.

When the NHL is leading the way on player punishment, it should be downright embarrassing for the leagues that are left behind.

World Peace’s hit on Harden in April caused a concussion, while X-rays on Stephenson were negative. But that shouldn’t matter. When he attacked Stephenson, Pittman seemed to be on a mission not to play basketball, but rather to simply lay out Stephenson. Considering the force and velocity with which Pittman’s elbow met Stephenson’s neck and shoulders, everyone was fortunate that he wasn’t injured much more seriously. To make matters worse, Pittman was shown on the telecast winking after committing the foul. We know these two teams can’t stand each other, but it’s still appalling to see an opponent show such blatant disregard for a rival after attacking him.

This ugliness began relatively early in Miami’s 115-83 Game 5 victory. In a span of 57 seconds in the second quarter, there were bookend flagrant fouls. First, Hansbrough swung his arm downward and whacked Miami’s Dwyane Wade across the face, opening a gash above his right eye, as Wade drove to the basket. But Hansbrough looked to be going for the ball -- something in which his counterparts in Tuesday’s NBA violence, Haslem and Pittman, didn’t appear to have the least bit of interest in. And for that reason, Hansbrough still gets to play in Game 6.

Moments later, Haslem, a tough guy who is an enforcer for Wade and LeBron James, retaliated when he clobbered Hansbrough’s right shoulder and face as he drove to the basket. That should have been called a Flagrant Foul 2 and resulted in his ejection from the game. Because the referees blew that call, Stern had to kick him out for Game 6. The irony is Miami might miss him more then than had he been suspended on the spot Tuesday night for just that game.

Then there was the worst of it, Pittman’s takedown of Stephenson, who had been on the Heat’s radar since making a choking gesture toward James in Game 3 and having words with Miami’s Juwan Howard before Game 4. No one is using the term bounty, obviously, but this all has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

Perhaps these chippy games between the oh-so-very mature Heat and Pacers should come to be known as the “You started it ... No, you did” series. It all sounds like a lot of playground pointing and screaming, with some serious muscle behind it.

But, at least for one evening, we know who deserves the blame. Stern came down squarely against the Heat. Yes, there were three flagrant fouls in Game 5, but they were not equal. To do the right thing, he had to punish two Miami players with suspensions, but no one from the Pacers. That wasn’t easy to do, but it was the right thing to do. This time, we can safely say whose fault it was.

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