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Heat-Pacers marred by flagrant fouls; Bird calls team 'soft'

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, lower left, loses the

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, lower left, loses the ball after Indiana Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough (50) committed a flagrant foul during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series. (May 22, 2012) Credit: AP

A quick glance at the box score might not show much intrigue from Game 5 of the Heat-Pacers series. Miami rolled to a 32-point win, LeBron James (30 points) and Dwyane Wade (28) dominated, and Indiana's scoring-by-committee strategy was inept, with nobody scoring more than 11 points.

Look deeper at said box score, though, and you see a big fat "3" under the "flagrant fouls" category; one by the Pacers' Tyler Hanbrough, and two by the Heat, dished out by Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman.

Hansbrough set off the fireworks with the Heat up four early in the second quarter. Wade went to the hoop, and was met by both Hansbrough and Louis Amundson under the basket. Psycho T fouled Wade hard on the head, and appeared to rake -- arguably intentionally -- Wade's face.

The Pacers' forward was given a flagrant-1.

Moments later, the Heat responded with a hard foul. Hansbrough took the ball along the baseline, trailing by seven, and went up for a short floater. He was met by Haslem, who hit Hansbrough hard with a two-handed foul -- clearly payback for the earlier play -- across the shoulder and face.

Tim Legler, one of the TNT analysts, suggested a flagrant-2 -- which would have resulted in Haslem being ejected -- be called. Instead, Haslem was given a flagrant-1 for the hard foul.

Finally, late in the fourth quarter, with the game well out of hand, Pittman dealt the final blow. The Pacers' A.J. Price set up and drained a jumper from the corner. His teammate, Lance Stephenson, followed the shot, looking for a putback in case it rimmed out. But as Stephenson went for the rebound, Pittman intentionally extended his arm, clotheslining Stephenson.

(The Pacers' guard had been the subject of Miami's ire after flashing the "choke" sign to James during Indiana's Game 3 win. Prior to Game 4, he was involved in a confrontation with veteran Heat forward Juwan Howard, and the two had to be restrained.)

Stephenson, who was in obvious pain, went for x-rays and a concussion test after the game, according to Alex Kennedy of Hoops World. Pittman -- who as Mike Prada of SBNation caught, winked after the play -- was given a flagrant-1.

After the game, Pacers president Larry Bird, the 2012 NBA Executive of the Year, expressed his displeasure for his team's response -- or lack thereof -- to Miami's physical play.

Bird told Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star that he couldn't "believe my team went soft. S-O-F-T. I'm disappointed. I never thought it would happen."

MSG analyst and former Newsday Knicks scribe Alan Hahn hit the nail on the head later on, tweeting, "Bird just set a tone for what absolutely will be a nasty Game 6 in Indiana."

You can be assured something will come out of the league office today. It could be in the form of a suspension for Haslem or Hansbrough (possible, but unmerited in my opinion) or for Pittman (almost definite), and it could include a behind-the-scenes edict to the two teams and Game 6's officials that there won't be any tolerance for the same type of play. The league has worked tirelessly the past several years to abandon the hard-nosed, physical play that characterized the 1990s and early 2000s; no better way to be set back than an unnecessarily chippy playoff series featuring two of the league's biggest stars.

(via @MikeWellsNBA)

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