When the replay of a sports collision is slowed down on television, it doesn’t always convey the actual blunt force of the real-time crash. Yet even in slo-mo, you can tell Dwyane Wade not only was bracing for smash-up impact with Paul George, he already was preparing for a cushioned fall. Wade essentially used George’s sprawled body for that purpose in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals and, in the process, his left knee cracked into the back of George’s head.
They are calling it a dirty play in Indianapolis, the same people who chanted “Flopper! Flopper!’’ inside the downtown field house after LeBron James was manhandled in mid-air by David West and lay dazed on the baseline. I’m not sure anyone could plot within a split second how to contort his body in a way to deliver a direct knee-to-skull blow, keeping in mind that Wade is trying desperately to avoid more knee injuries. But do know this: I’ve seen unique turning points in numerous postseason series during a lifetime of covering sports, and this could be among the freakiest and most devastating.
Turns out George has a concussion, which he should have known when he briefly blacked out yet nonetheless played the final six minutes with blurred vision. If the Indiana Pacers have to proceed without their best player — George is not allowed, per NBA protocol, to resume basketball activities until he is declared concussion-free and can’t play until he’s free of symptoms for at least 24 hours — then the Miami Heat has a distinct advantage in trying to reach its fourth straight NBA Finals. As it was, George hurt his team in the final minutes by staying in the game, finishing an abysmal night with a 4-of-16 shooting performance. If he happened to exacerbate a sensitive condition by playing instead of sitting, well, what we have here is a potential scandal.
The question is why George stayed in the game and whether the Pacers were negligent in not removing him. “I … blacked out,” George said afterward. “Felt like I was a little bit dazed for the last five minutes of the game.” During the stoppage in play, did he tell the two team medical people examining him that he blacked out? Did he alert them that he was blacking out in the minutes after the collision? If George did inform them at any point during the game, the Pacers should be reprimanded by the league for violating protocol. And if he didn’t inform them, then George is guilty of the stubborn and foolish pride we often see in the NFL — an athlete not wanting to leave a game, particularly a huge postseason game, regardless of a head injury.
As if to absolve the organization of blame, the Pacers released a statement: “George exhibited no symptoms of a concussion and, in response to the Pacers’ medical staff, he denied dizziness, nausea and issues with his vision. He also was active and aware of his surroundings. As a result, the Indiana medical staff did not suspect a concussion.’’
Am I interpreting this correctly? They say they listened solely to what George told them instead of relying on their own medical expertise? Or, in that situation, do they perhaps fear the wrath of team president Larry Bird — who never would have left a playoff game with a blow to the noggin’ — and simply ignore that George obviously was woozy and showing obvious symptoms in the final minutes? And if George was so quick to the media that he blacked out, why didn’t he tell the medical people?
Can you say coverup?
The NBA, for now, is backing the Pacers. Already heavily occupied by the Donald Sterling case, the league may be tiring of controversy and wants all public focus kept on a compelling postseason. That wouldn’t be the right reason to clear the team’s medical staff, and commissioner Adam Silver should not be content to let these questions fade until the series resumes Saturday night in Miami. “The Indiana Pacers’ medical team followed the NBA concussion protocol and there was no indication of concussion during the game,’’ said Jeffrey Kutcher, director of the NBA’s concussion program. “This case illustrates that concussion evaluation is an ongoing process and manifestations of the injury may not always present immediately.’’
So, blacking out isn’t an immediate manifestation of the injury?
The NBA did fine the most problematic Pacer, Lance Stephenson, for flopping late in the third quarter of Game 2. If players are going to flop, at least practice it as an art form and try to sell it. Stephenson embarrassed himself in flopping to the court, then staying down. He was docked $5,000 as the very apropos first player fined during the postseason.
Whoever is at fault — George, the doctors, coach Frank Vogel or the specter of Bird upstairs — the Pacers erred significantly in allowing George to remain in a game they should have won. “Now, we’ve got to go on their floor and take a game from them the same way they did,” said George, who also had four turnovers. “We gave this one away, so we have to work even harder on their floor. We just made some plays down the stretch that cost us. It happens. We were in control for 44, 45 minutes of this game.”
The minutes they weren’t in control, not coincidentally, were the minutes Paul George was playing with blurred vision.