Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Clippers

Thunder’s Ibaka fined $25K, not suspended, for blow to Griffin


When you see the play above most people who are not Thunder faithful thought Serge Ibaka punched Blake Griffin in the groin and should have been ejected. But he wasn’t, it was ruled a flagrant 1 foul, and Ibaka went on to make key plays down the stretch (including drawing Griffin’s sixth foul) that helped lift the Thunder over the Clippers Sunday.

So is the league going to step in and up the penalty and suspend Ibaka? Nope.

The league announced that it has upgraded the foul from a Flagrant 1 to a Flagrant 2, but Ibaka will only be fined $25,000 and not suspended for a game (Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported this was how it would go down). If the referees had called a flagrant 2 in the game Ibaka would have been ejected and maybe the end of the game plays out differently. The Clippers are shaking their heads at this one, and they should be.

My two cents: It was a bad call then and is a bad call now. It looks like what the league wanted was to make sure Ibaka was in uniform Tuesday night when the Thunder face the Lakers on national televisio.

Ibaka’s supporters say that he wasn’t throwing a punch, he was trying to dislodge Blake’s hand as he had a fistful of Ibaka’s jersey? My response is that fistfuls of jerseys are grabbed on better than half the rebound battles in the NBA, but you don’t get to take a swing to dislodge the guy’s hand.

That’s not how the league sees it.

We also are still awaiting word on if J.J. Barea will get a fine or suspension for his body check of Ray Allen on Monday night.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.