When you consider what’s at stake in the NBA Playoffs, it’s only natural that tempers are going to flare every now and then as players leave it all on the court in the hopes of securing a championship.
However, those guys also need to be very aware of what’s on the line when tensions start to boil over, as the last thing you want to do is put your team at a disadvantage by not being able to keep your emotions in check.
Draymond Green has obviously played an instrumental role in helping the Golden State Warriors take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy four times in the past decade, but he’s also committed a number of largely unforced errors that have not exactly helped him contribute to the cause.
The big man once again cemented his reputation as a dirty player by making the ill-advised decision to forcibly stomp on Domantas Sabonis’ chest after having his leg grabbed in Game 2 of Golden State’s showdown with the Kings, which ultimately led to the league handing him a one-game suspension.
The following was released by the NBA. pic.twitter.com/KEnWx2qTvs
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 19, 2023
That was obviously not an ideal development for a Warriors squad that ended up losing its most formidable defensive threat after falling into a 2-0 hole against Sacramento, and it was hard not to think back to the time Green committed a similarly costly error thanks to an altercation with LeBron James that led to him sitting out a fairly pivotal NBA Finals game in 2016.
You could argue his absence in that contest gave the Cavaliers the opportunity they needed to turn the tides in a series where Golden State had boasted a 3-1 lead only to lose the next three games (and, consequently, the championship).
However, I think it’s hard to compare that incident to another one that was responsible for what I’d position as the most consequential disciplinary action ever handed out in the NBA Playoffs.
How the Knicks fell victim to a slew of suspensions in the NBA Playoffs in 1997
In 1997, the Knicks headed into the postseason hoping for a shot at redemption after they were eliminated by Michael Jordan and the Bulls in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals the previous year.
Both teams made quick work of their opponents in the opening round, and it seemed like they were destined for a rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals after they each pulled out to a 3-1 lead in the ensuing round.
The Bulls officially punched their ticket to the next phase of the playoffs after beating the Hawks on May 13th, and the Knicks were hoping to do the same by dispatching the Heat the following night. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan.
Miami had pulled out to a double-digit lead toward the end of a contest that had already started to get chipper, as Charles Oakley was ejected after getting into with Alonzo Mourning in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
However, things escalated very quickly thanks to what unfolded when Miami’s Charlie Ward went very low while attempting to box out P.J. Brown, which resulted in the New York big man grabbing him, lifting him into the air, and turning him a full 360° before tossing him to the ground.
That development sparked a full-blown melee that saw players from both teams engage with each other. When the dust finally settled, Ward, Brown, and John Stark joined Oakley on the list of players who’d been tossed before the final buzzer sounded.
The Heat had momentum on their side after narrowing the series to 3-2, but they got even more wind in their sails thanks to what transpired when the NBA took a closer look at the altercation.
The league ultimately suspended Brown for the remainder of the series and forced Ward to sit out a game for his role in the incident.
However, it didn’t stop there, as Starks, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing, and Allan Houston each received a game apiece for leaving the bench during the fracas (those suspensions were staggered to ensure the Knicks would be able to field a full roster).
The Heat took advantage of Ewing and Houston (the team’s two leading scorers) sitting out Game 6 to tie the series at three games apiece, and while the absence of Starks and Johnson likely had a smaller impact on the outcome of the deciding showdown, it certainly didn’t hurt Miami’s ultimately successful quest to cap off the comeback with 101-90 win.
Suspensions don’t get much more impactful than that.