Will Paul George Be Suspended for Game 7?

Hill Scott Confrontation

During the second half of Game 6 in Atlanta, George Hill and Mike Scott of the Hawks got tied up under the hoop. The play was away from the ball, and they exchanged some unpleasantries while drifting away from the action and toward the Pacers bench.

There was a little bit of slap boxing and some jazz hands, but no real fracas to speak of. Each was issued a technical foul and Hill got some free throws out of the deal.

As they were confronting each other, however, Paul George and (I believe) Rasual Butler moved towards them. As you can see in the GIF above (via SB Nation), Butler comes onto the court by what could be considered a significant distance. Paul George, too, gets both feet across the sideline before Indiana assistant coach Popeye Jones keeps him from progressing any further.

The NBA rulebook states the following: “During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.”

Thus, if George (and Butler, who isn’t in the rotation) is determined to have not remained in the “immediate vicinity” of the bench, he will be suspended for Game 7. Which obviously isn’t at all good for Indiana.

I don’t know what the outcome here will be. The definitions of both “altercation” and “immediate vicinity” are obviously what will determine the league’s ruling, as will precedents set by similar past instances.

The most famous such case came in 2007, after Robert Horry body checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table and Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended after leaving the bench once an ensuing altercation began.

There have been other instances, but I don’t have them all handy. But historically, this has been one of the league’s strictest rules. After all the Knicks/Heat fights in the late 90s and especially the Malice in the Palace, the league has fought hard against a perception (and at times a reality) that its players fight too much. Thus the draconian enforcement.

It has by and large been effective, and that’s why things like this minute-if-at-all violation by Paul George and Butler is the most you usually see these days. Obviously neither was anywhere near escalating the (possible) “altercation,” but they did cross that sideline. Will that line become a Rubicon for the Pacers season?

On the other hand, given that Adam Silver just took over, there is reason to believe that the rule could be interpreted in new ways now.

We don’t know how league office in the David Stern era would have interpreted this scenario, but we do know that just the other day, when Nene headbutted Jimmy Butler (and got tossed), some thought Marcin Gortat might get suspended for leaving the bench. There was a timeout called as the altercation happened, however, so the NBA did not review the incident.

Somebody certainly will look at this tape though. So this will be the first high-profile instance under Silver. The first in the playoffs anyway.

The decision couldn’t have a bigger impact as Indiana continues to fight for its life in what was most expected to be a relatively easy first-round series.

UPDATE: Stu Jackson — a former NBA executive vice president who once oversaw and made all disciplinary decisions of this nature for the league — offered his take on Twitter.

There is nothing official about this, as Jackson has moved on from his role in the league office. But his interpretations are what created the modern standards for such things, so his take is more than illuminating.

Pacers fans should hope the current league officials see this the same way.

(Correction: On first publication, the new commissioner’s last name was confused with that of a vile racist. It has since been fixed. – Ed

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