With the outcome likely hinging on any possession, the Lakers wanted to make a defensive stop. But instead of Lakres forward Carlos Boozer blocking a shot, denying an open look or staying locked into his mind, he adopted a different defensive strategy.
Boozer shoved Indiana center Roy Hibbert to the ground, which immediately prompted him to stand up and storm at Boozer.
“Obviously he was cutting down the lane. I was trying to stop him from cutting and I pushed him a little bit,” Boozer said following the Lakers’ 88-87 win on Sunday over the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center. “He flopped a lot. Then he got up acting like he was a tough guy. We all know he’s not a tough guy. The refs did what they had to do.”
The referees initially called Boozer for a personal foul and slapped Hibbert with a technical foul. But upon further review, NBA officials Zach Zarba, Derek Richardson and Scott Wall handed Boozer a flagrant foul 1 with 5:55 left in the game.
“I just wonder what the league’s coming to when that’s a flagrant foul. It’s a shame that has to be a flagrant,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “It’s a foul, technical foul, maybe. That’s about it. But flagrant foul? My goodness.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted Boozer’s wrongdoing by pushing Hibbert. But Scott still expressed similar frustration over the call.
“I asked all three referees to explain to me what a flagrant foul is from now on because I have no clue I really don’t, Scott said. “They told me it was unnecessary as far as what he did. I said it’s still a push. But college ball is more aggressive than we are and more physical than the NBA is right now.”
Scott’s frustration with this call goes beyond Boozer’s foul.
Lakers guard Ronnie Price was punished with a flagrant foul 2 and a one-game suspension two months ago after accidentally hitting New Orleans’s Austin Rivers from behind while attempting to block a shot. Though Lakers forward Ed Davis absorbed a brutal blow to his broke nose from Memphis guard Tayshaun Prince, officials only called him with a personal foul.
“My assessment of a flagrant foul is anything above the shoulder, not necessarily going for the ball,” Scott said. “But anytime you go above the shoulder, it’s a flagrant foul is. Ed got hit above the shoulders the other night. I don’t know. Hopefully they can help me out this summer when we meet again in Chicago.”
Bryant chuckled about Scott’s frustration.
“That might not have been a foul when Byron was playing,” Bryant said. “The game has changed a lot.”
It could have been worse.
Hibbert charged at Boozer, who immediately exchanged words. Before the fight escalated, Lakers forward Ryan Kelly immediately intervened. Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey soon wrapped his hands around Hibbert and walked away from the scrum. The Lakers were trailing 79-75 with 5:55 at that point.
“That can shift the momentum of the game,” Kelly said. “The situation that initially played out was done and you don’t want something to extend worse to hurt us. I didn’t want it to escalate.”
Only moments earlier, Kelly laughed.
“Flashbacks to last year right?” Kelly said.
Kelly was referring to the Lakers’ 121-114 loss on Jan. 15, 2014 to the Phoenix Suns where Phoenix forward Alex Len delivered a hard foul on Lakers forward Nick Young that knocked him to the floor as he drove for a layup. Young immediately stood up and shoved Len back. Young and Suns forward Marcus Morris also shared shoves. Young then made contact with an open hand on Dragic’s head after he entered the fray. Len also earned a flagrant foul 2 and a subsequent ejection. Morris was slapped with a technical foul.
Afterwards, Young called his teammates out for not coming to his defense. One of the guilty offenders included Kelly.
“It was a position I hadn’t been in before,” Kelly said. “There’s no doubt I learned something from it. But you know me. I wasn’t going to throw a punch out there.”
There were other elements in play.
“I was on a minimum deal. If I get fined, that’s a big chunk of money,” said Kelly, who signed a two-year deal worth around $3.4 million this offseason with the Lakers. “You learn from little things like that. In college [at Duke], I never got put in that position.”