The NBA has a difficult call to make that could alter the NBA championship race.
Indiana Pacers guard George Hill and Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott got into a staring-then-shoving contest during the first half of the Pacers' 95-88 Game 6 victory in Atlanta.
Their actions drew technical fouls, but in the heat of their showdown, Pacers star Paul George and backup Rasual Butler — who were both not in the game — made small steps onto the court. They remained near the bench.
Therein lies the problem.
"During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench," the NBA rulebook says. "Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000."
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Will it be enforced for Game 7 (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, TNT)? The loss of George would be a brutal blow to the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Pacers.
"I'm not concerned about any suspensions until we hear something," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the game, adding that he didn't expect any.
But Hill and Scott also could face additional discipline.
"He put his finger in my face," Scott told news reporters (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). "He put his finger on me and I was defending myself."
The most famous implementation of the controversial rule was in 2007, when the Phoenix Suns' Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended after moving toward an altercation between teammate Steve Nash and the San Antonio Spurs' Robert Horry in Game 4. San Antonio won Game 5 and closed out the series in Game 6.
"The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear," Stu Jackson, then the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations, said of the ruling in 2007. "Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are
"This is a very unfortunate incident but the rule is the rule. It's not a matter of fairness. It's a matter of correctness, and this is the right decision."
The decision now will come down to Rod Thorn, the president of basketball operations and chief disciplinarian.
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