MIAMI This series is getting so physical even the fans are wearing bandages.
The Miami Heat distributed 20,000 sticker bandages before Tuesday's playoff game to acknowledge rugged forward Udonis Haslem getting nine stitches for a cut over his right eye two days earlier and playing strong down the stretch. Many fans put them over their eyes in Haslem-like fashion.
Then they watched more blood flow.
Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scored 30 and 28 points, respectively, in their teams 115-83 walloping of Indiana at AmericanAirlines Arena to take a 3-2 lead in an East semifinal. But it was mostly overshadowed by three flagrant fouls, two by Miami that might have been retaliatory moves by a pair of Heat heavyweights to defend their stars.
And wouldn't it figure that Haslem, No. 40 your program and the guy whose "UD40'' was written on the stickers, was one of those Miami maulers. The other was center Dexter Pittman.
It all started when Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough clocked Wade on a drive to the basket with 10:23 remaining in the second quarter and was assessed a flagrant foul 1. Less than a minute later, Haslem, with 9:26 left before halftime, walloped Hansbrough when he went up for a shot and got a flagrant foul 1.
Pittman got into the act with just 19.4 seconds left in the game and most of the fans already had gone home with their bandages. He plowed into Indiana deep reserve Lance Stephenson, getting a flagrant foul 1 of his own.
Why Stephenson? Well, possibly because he had made a choke sign when James was shooting a technical free throw in Indiana's lopsided Game 3 win. Before Game 4, Heat forward Juwan Howard had approached Stephenson in a not-so-friendly manner before the two players were separated.
"It's a typical Eastern Conference playoff game. I played in the soft Western Conference the last 10 years," quipped Heat forward Shane Battier.
But that was about the only levity anybody had about the rough play. Pacers president Larry Bird sure wasn't happy, telling the Indianpolis Star his team, which lost the rebounding battle 49-35 to the more physical Heat, "went soft."
The Heat, though, won't be as overjoyed with the win if they lose Haslem to a suspension for Thursday's Game 6. He appeared to go right at Hansbrough's head while he was shooting.
"Haslem's, I saw it was bad in the game but then when I came back (to the locker room) and I saw the replay, it looked about three times as worse," said Pacers forward Danny Granger, who suffered a sprained left ankle late in the second quarter and was knocked out for night when he aggravated it early in the third. "Seeing it in slow motion, it was obviously with intent. It was just as dangerous as what I think Metta World Peace did to James Harden."
World Peace, a Lakers forward, was suspended for seven games for his blatant April 22 cheap shot at Oklahoma City guard Harden. Obviously, Haslem won't get anything close to that.
Haslem doesn't believe he should be penalized at all.
"I made a play on the ball," said Haslem, who got gotten his cut thanks to an elbow by Indiana forward Lou Amundson early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 101-93 Game 4 win, but then scored eight of his 14 points the rest of the game. "You can't get suspended for making a play on the ball Check my rap sheet. Nine years in this game, I ain't never played to hurt nobody. I play hard and that's it."
The NBA will review all three hard fouls, none of which were called flagrant 2, which means automatic ejection. The NBA could change any to a flagrant 2, which would increase the fine amount for a player and increase the number of points a player is allotted before a possible playoff suspension.
An upgrade to a flagrant 2 wouldn't necessarily mean any player would be suspended. Any decisions could be made Wednesday, and can't be made any later than Thursday.
"I thought I got a piece of the ball," said Hansbrough, talking about dishing out a hard foul and soon receiving one. "I happened to scrape his face on the way down. That's what happened. It's kind of tough to say if (Haslem was) going for the ball. I thought it was retaliation for the foul on Wade."
Naturally, Wade disagreed with Hansbrough's description of his foul.
"Obviously, my face is not the ball," said Wade, who was hacked while he drove to the basket and protected the ball on his left side while Hansbrough came from the right. "So he didn't make a play on the ball. I thought it was uncalled for."
Wade sustained a cut above his right eye that drew blood. He didn't need any stitches but was outfitted with a bandage, which he wore to a post-game press conference.
In case you're wondering, it wasn't a "UD40" bandage.
After Wade hit hit one of his two free throws for a 30-25 lead and after Hansbrough made both his foul shots to make the score 32-27, the focus eventually was back on basketball. The Heat took a 49-40 halftime lead and blew the game open by outscoring the Pacers 27-17 in the third quarter.
James, who also had 10 rebounds and eight assists, and Wade came out with 4:19 left in the game and got a nice ovation. It marked the second straight game the two stars had come up big, allowing the Heat to take control of the series with two impressive wins.
But soon it turned ugly again. With 19.4 seconds left, Pittman noticed Stephenson going in for a rebound, appeared to size him up, and took him out with a vicious forearm.
"I don't know if that was retaliation for what Lance had done (with the choke sign)," said Granger, who plans to "take a bunch of medication" and play Thursday. "But I was in (the locker room watching) on the replay and he looked over and saw him coming, and he's a big guy and he laid him out."
Pittman was not available for comment after the game and Stephenson shrugged it off., He said Pittman was just "playing hard ball" and called it "a good foul."
James said he didn't know if Pittman went after Stephenson due to the choke gesture. James said he didn't get a good look at any of the flagrant fouls.
"There's no room for dirty plays in our game period," James said. "No matter if it comes from us or them or anyone in the league. At this point, we're all one group as players and at the end of the day you don't want to see anybody get injured."
Don't think anybody hurt Granger by taking him out. He twisted his ankle without contact.
But Pacers forward David West, who left the game for good after the third quarter with a knee contusion, claimed he was hurt because "a guy just dove into my knee." West didn't identify a culprit and television replays did not appear to back up his claim.
Regardless, all of this Miami toughness has rattled Indiana. After the game, Bird told the Indianapolis Star, "I can't believe my team went soft. S-O-F-T. I'm disappointed. I never thought it would happen."
The Heat clearly have kicked sand in the faces of the Pacers the past two games after Indiana had taken a 2-1 series lead and appeared to have Miami on the brink of playoff elimination. After being outrebounded 102-76 in losses in Games 2 and 3, the Heat have won the battle of the boards 96-73 the past two games.
Suddenly, the Heat aren't worrying as much about forward Chris Bosh, who was knocked out, likely for the series, in Game 1 with a abdominal strain. They've taken charge with physical play.
Then again, that's what Miami coach Erik Spoelstra expected. He said before the series he believed it "will feel like it's played in a cage rather than a basketball court."
"We anticipated this," Spoelstra said. "Our regular-season games, our last two (against Indiana) were very similar to this. It's a physical team. It's a big team. We pride ourselves on being physical also."
But did the Heat cross the line with retaliatory flagrant fouls by Haslem and Pittman? Most of the Indiana players believed that.
"'The physicality (in the series) shows how much each team wants it," said Pacers guard Paul George. "But (Miami's two flagrant fouls were) completely uncalled for. (Haslem's) was blatant (Pittman's) shouldn't happen."
The Pacers will try to regroup Thursday and force a Game 7 Saturday. If that happens, who knows what team officials will have as the Heat's promotion? Maybe they'll make light of Spoelstra's pre-series comment and bring out a cage.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson