Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Right cross, black eye

Scot Pollard, who beared firsthand witness to the reputation-scarring melee that has henceforth become known as the "Malice at the Palace," said Saturday's Nuggets-Knicks brawl at Madison Square Garden is "even more stupid" than the 2004 Pacers-Pistons rumble.

"Ours was stupid, too, but it's even more stupid after what happened," Pollard told The Plain Dealer Tuesday. Pollard was a Pacers reserve that season.

At first blush, you'd think there's no way anything could top the flying fists and fans-versus-player action in Auburn Hills. But, when you think about it, the Cavs' Mohawk Man might be right.

The Palace brawl started because a fan threw his beverage on the wrong man: Ron Artest. Players in every sport get doused with errant cups of heaven-knows-what on a fairly regular basis. But it took one slimebucket's good aim and the notoriously unstable temper of Artest -- fueled by a simmering altercation with Ben Wallace -- to turn a campfire into an inferno that the NBA is still trying to douse.

Chalk it up to a perfect storm of circumstances.

Compare that with what happened in New York this past weekend, and you have the difference between a Willis McGahee knee injury, and a Nancy Kerrigan knee injury.

The Detroit-Indiana brawl was grisly to watch, but I doubt Artest laid on the scorer's table waiting for a drink to come flying at him so he could vault into the stands. The fight in New York, by contrast, was so rife with premeditation, all that was missing was an ex-husband of Tonya Harding, a hired hitman and a pipe wrench.

The sickest aspect of the whole brawl is the underlying theme of coach versus coach. Neither George Karl nor Isiah Thomas received suspension time for their roles in instigating the brawl, but every road seems to lead back to the boiling feud the two men have had since Thomas canned Karl's good friend Larry Brown this summer.

Why did Denver have their starters in so late in a game that was well in hand? Karl says it was because the Nuggets have trouble closing out games on the road and can't take a 19-point lead for granted even with less than four minutes remaining.

Coincidentally, the Cavs also have trouble closing out games on the road. Mike Brown, however, knows he would be hung by his bootstraps on Public Square if he left an already-fatigued LeBron James in the game with a 19-point lead in the closing minutes.

Brown wants to protect his superstar, and by extension, his job. I'd imagine that if you polled Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley or any other NBA coach who has a superstar player in his charge, you'd get much the same response.

Karl, however, was very obviously trying to step on the throat of Thomas' team to send a message involving nothing that concerns Karl, the Nuggets, or anyone on the Knicks roster. It was purely a personal vendetta.

That's Karl's unclaimed share of the blame. Now let's put a pair of richly-deserved crosshairs on Thomas.

Thomas has a long history of incendiary comments dating to his time as a player. That's fine when you're on the floor and trying to pilot your team past the Lakers for the NBA title. When you're on the sidelines and it's a nondescript regular-season game in the middle of December, threats like "don't go to the hole," as Thomas allegedly told Carmelo Anthony, seem like they belong in a childish game of street ball.

And that's exactly what the game devolved into. A playground fight.

First, there was the horse collar Mardy Collins put on J.R. Smith, which might or might not have been encouraged by Thomas. Smith, understandably, was upset. Chesting-up turned to shoving and words you wouldn't repeat in front of your mother, and the disrespect-fest was on.

It was bad enough when the wrestling spilled over into the baseline seats. But just as order was on the verge of being restored, Carmelo Anthony proved that you can take the player out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the player. With his crew thoroughly dissed, he flew in and sucker-punched Collins in the face, earning a 15-game suspension.

When it was all said and done, seven players were suspended for a total of 47 games, and to save their season, Denver had their hand forced into trading Joe Smith and Andre Miller for Allen Iverson.

That trade, by the way, isn't the blockbuster you might think. Not when Iverson and Anthony will both try to lead the league in scoring from the same starting lineup. Good luck dividing up the touches when 'Melo gets back, Mr. Karl.

It's a headache Karl deserves for his unpunished role in Saturday's black eye, which was delivered to the entire league, not just two teams.

Thomas' punishment? He gets to continue coaching the Knicks. Some might say that's punishment enough.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Part of me wonders if Isiah wasn't suspended because Stern thought he'd be fired soon enough anyways.