With six minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz game on December 1, 2014, Gordon Hayward took off with a Kenneth Faried pass like a he stole it. Because he did. Hayward took two enormous dribbles and passed it off to a streaking Alec Burks, coming to the lane on the left like a bullet train 0.6 seconds behind the clock to the rim. That’s when Arron Afflalo laid out Burks with a nasty head shot, drawing a Flagrant 2 foul.
The official description from the rulebook:
A flagrant foul-penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately.
Game officials Marc Davis, Leroy Richardson and Curtis Blair took a long time viewing video and consulting with the league’s replay center in Secaucus, N.J. and decided that Afflalo’s action merited the harsh punishment.
The Nuggets eventually hung on for a 103-101 win.
But we’re going to be surprised if this doesn’t get another look from the league office. Because Afflalo was not malicious and was clearly making a play on the ball.
Fran echoes what most are talking about, the fallout for Arron Afflalo. But this is largely irrelevant.
Afflalo was ejected after referees deemed it to be a Flagrant 2 foul. But no one in the Nuggets locker room believed the mild-mannered Afflalo fouled Burks that hard on purpose.
“I was trying to go for a block, pretty much,” Afflalo said. “I’m not trying to be a tough guy, not trying to commit a hard foul. Things that ensue after that is all verbal in front of the refs and a lot of people. To me that means nothing. Honestly I just thought I committed a hard foul and he finished the game so he was OK.”
Nuggets coach Brian Shaw saw it in much the same manner.
“I understand the flagrant because it was a strike to the head,” Shaw said. “But I thought that the hit to the head happened because he ducked on the layup. Arron was trying to swipe, trying to make a play at the ball. … Those things happen. It was a hard foul. Arron’s not a dirty player, so it wasn’t intentional by any means.”
The league may will likely deem a downgrade to the flagrant foul by Afflalo, but there’s an issue here no one is talking about: The other technical foul issued on this play:
In order to attempt to deescalate altercations, the NBA implemented a rule forbidding those on the bench, be they player or coach, from entering the field the play during an altercation. Rule No. 12, Section V states:
a. An official may assess a technical foul, without prior warning, at any time. A technical foul(s) may be assessed to any player on the court or anyone seated on the bench for conduct which, in the opinion of an official, is detrimental to the game. A technical foul cannot be assessed for physical contact when the ball is alive.
EXCEPTION: Fighting fouls and/or taunting with physical contact.
b. A maximum of two technicals for unsportsmanlike acts may be assessed any player, coach or trainer. Any of these offenders may be ejected for committing only one unsportsmanlike act, and they must be ejected for committing two unsports-manlike acts.
c. A technical foul called for (1) delay of game, (2) coaches box violations, (3) defensive 3-seconds, or (4) having a team total of less or more than five players when the ball is alive, or (5) an offensive player hanging on his basket ring or backboard, is not considered an act of unsportsmanlike conduct.
d. A technical foul shall be assessed for unsportsmanlike tactics such as:
(1) Disrespectfully addressing an official
(2) Physically contacting an official
(3) Overt actions indicating resentment to a call
(4) Use of profanity
(5) A coach entering onto the court without permission of an official
(6) A deliberately-thrown elbow or any attempted physical act with no con-tact involved
e. Cursing or blaspheming an official shall not be considered the only cause for imposing technical fouls. Running tirades, continuous criticism or griping may be sufficient cause to assess a technical. Excessive misconduct shall result in ejection from the game.
f. Assessment of a technical foul shall be avoided whenever and wherever pos-sible; but, when necessary they are to be assessed without delay or procrastination. Once a player has been ejected or the game is over, technicals cannot be assessed regardless of the provocation. Any additional unsportsmanlike conduct shall be reported by E-mail immediately to the Basketball Operations Department.
g. If a technical foul is assessed to a team following a personal foul on the same team, the free throw attempt for the technical foul shall be administered first.
h. The ball shall be awarded to the team which had possession at the time the technical foul was assessed, whether the free throw attempt is successful or not. Play shall be resumed by a throw-in nearest the spot where play was interrupted.
While I have no issue with the rule as stated, the exceptions following it are lacking. Utah Jazz trainer Gary Briggs ran out onto the court and was assessed a technical for doing so.
Briggs wasn’t running onto the court to take part in the altercation. Enes Kanter had that covered.
Afflalo was called for a “Flagrant 2″ foul on Alec Burks going to the basket and was ejected. During the raucous that followed, Enes Kanter came to Alec’s defense and went after Afflalo a bit. Nice to see. With the play clearly stopped but no official timeout, Jazz trainer Gary Briggs went on the floor to check on Alec Burks. Unfortunately, the rules state that if the game has not been stopped the trainer can’t come out on the floor or it is a technical foul. No one’s fault on this but the one point the Nuggets got on that technical changed the entire complexion of the game down the stretch.
Briggs, the Jazz trainer since 2000, after 18 years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the recipient of the 1999 Athletic Trainer of the Year Award, was merely doing his job. He was issued a quick-draw penalty by NBA officials for his trouble.
While it’s quite likely Briggs’ (only?) technical will be dismissed, it’s in the best interest of the NBA to add another exception to their Rule 12, Section V, one that states that athletic trainers attending to injured players are allowed. Provided they don’t enter the court and escalate an already potentially volatile situation, if they are attending to a potentially injured player.
You want your staff on the quick-draw, reacting lightning fast, especially when it concerns your bread winners and injuries.
Adam Silver would be wise to be proactive in rulings such as this in light of recent NFL lawsuits and injuries to stars in his own league, such as the highly publicized Team USA catastrophic injury to Paul George. Player safety is a major concern to teams, the fans and intelligent leagues alike.
Rescinding the technical foul is certain. Education and a new rule exception should follow shortly thereafter.
A day later, the NBA not only upheld the original call on the court but also tacked on a fine for Afflalo. The official press release reads:
NEW YORK — Denver Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo has been fined $15,000 for making excessive contact above the shoulders with Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks, it was announced today by Rod Thorn, President, Basketball Operations.
The foul on Afflalo, for which he was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 5:55 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Nuggets’ 103-101 win over the Jazz on Dec. 1, at EnergySolutions Arena.
Afflalo likely didn’t at all try to hurt Burks, but it was still clearly a reckless swing of his arm. Burks didn’t have any kind of opportunity to get out of the way. The fine is understandable in this situation.
Clearly, the NBA wanted to send a message to not only Afflalo, but all players, concerning hard contact fouls using excessive force.
No news of Briggs’ technical at this time.
On December 3, the NBA rescinded the Gary Briggs technical. Trainers are being careful about entering the court after injuries since Briggs was whistled.