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A flagrant abuse of authority

Los Angeles Laker Kurt Rambis (31) is collared by Boston's Kevin McHale in the 1984 NBA Finals. Los Angeles Laker Kurt Rambis (31) is collared by Boston's Kevin McHale in the 1984 NBA Finals. (AP Photo)
By Dan Shaughnessy
May 11, 2009
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ORLANDO, Fla. - Try to imagine what would happen today if we had another play like Kevin McHale's body slam of Kurt Rambis in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals.

Even young fans probably know the play. It was the Clothesline-Hung-Round-the-World. The Showtime Lakers led the Celtics, two games to one, and were running all over the Green Team in the Los Angeles Forum. McHale's takedown turned the series around. The Celtics went on to win Game 4, and copped the series in seven.

"That was the play that changed everything," said Cedric Maxwell, the Celtics' radio analyst and a member of the '84 team. "Before that play the Lakers were like little kids running across the street without looking. After the play, they were like folks who push the button, wait for the 'walk' sign, and then cross with caution."

It's a good thing for McHale and the Celtics that it happened in 1984. If he tried it today, he'd probably be banished for the rest of the playoffs and into the beginning of next season.

"I think you would see a couple-of-game suspension," said Danny Ainge, today's Celtics boss who was a key contributor on the '84 champs. "If you look at it in slow motion, it wasn't a swing or anything like that, but probably these days everybody would harp on it and say he should get five or 10 games or something like that."

"If it happened today, Kevin would be suspended for every game the rest of the way," said Maxwell.

Welcome to the 2009 NBA playoffs, where it seems every hard foul can take you out of the next game.

We've seen it with Derek Fisher and Dwight Howard (Superman dropped "The People's Elbow" on Philadelphia center Samuel Dalembert). Folks in Chicago wanted to see it when Rajon Rondo slapped the face of Brad Miller and again when Rondo had a dust-up with Kirk Hinrich.

Orlando guard Rafer Alston took a swipe at Eddie House in Game 2 against the Celtics and was suspended for Game 3 - even though he hit House with an open hand and did little other than twirl House's headband. It was the kind of slap you'd get from your grandmother for eating cookies before dinner.

When the Celtics' Kendrick Perkins put his elbow up to block Orlando's Mickael Pietrus in Game 3, there was noise about Perkins being suspended for last night's Game 4.

"It's gotten out of hand," Perkins, who was not suspended, said after yesterday's shootaround at Amway Arena. "I think there's too much emphasis on it. This is the playoffs, man. The games are high intensity. It's nothing personal, but guys get bold."

Stephon Marbury told the Globe's Marc J. Spears, "I played in the era when you could do everything. I played with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley. I think the other way was better. You could really play basketball. Now you can't guard a guy."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has been around long enough to recognize the nonsense of the situation. More than once he has reminded us that he played for the Hells Angels Knicks in the early 1990s.

"I don't like what's been going on," said Rivers. "I understand why the league is doing it, but right now it's sort of like 'gotcha' politics. I think the fans want to see the two best teams out there and that's why I think a suspension should be served in the next season. It would cost players more money that way, too.

"For now, it's gotten out of control. That's the environment. We're 10 games into the playoffs, so we know what it is. We've got to control ourselves."

A textbook example of the problem came in the closing seconds of Saturday's Game 3 between the Mavericks and Nuggets. Dallas guard Antoine Wright was trying to foul Carmelo Anthony on an inbounds play, but he didn't foul hard enough and no whistle was blown. The result was a 3-pointer by Anthony that won the game and prompted an apology from the league. Wright told reporters he was afraid to foul too hard because he might have been tagged with a flagrant and risked suspension for Game 4.

"I wasn't afraid of Rafer getting suspended," said Rivers. "There's a difference between something premeditated and a spontaneous act. They way I look at the playoffs is: the players should play. That's what they're for. They play the whole year to play."

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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