ATLANTA – Stan Van Gundy says he's getting tired of all the flopping by Atlanta's big men. The Hawks accuse Orlando star Dwight Howard of being a little too loose with his elbows. And Jason Richardson sums up his feelings about Zaza Pachulia this way: "I don't like him."
Yep, this Eastern Conference playoff series is getting downright testy.
The NBA tried to tone things down a bit Saturday by handing one-game suspensions to Richardson, one of Orlando's top outside shooters, and Pachulia, the Hawks' burly backup center, after their altercation in the closing minutes of Game 3.
The league's disciplinarian, vice president Stu Jackson, was on hand for the contest at Philips Arena and needed less than 24 hours to announce his decision Saturday.
Pachulia will sit out Sunday night's game for head-butting Richardson. The Magic player was suspended for shoving Pachulia in the face. Both also will forfeit one game's pay.
With about 2½ minutes to go Friday night, Pachulia took exception when Howard swung his elbow after a hard foul, responding with an elbow of his own. Richardson jumped in and was head-butted several times by Pachulia as they jawed with each other. Richardson responded with a slap to Pachulia's face before Howard pulled away his teammate.
Pachulia and Richardson were both ejected, and Howard received a technical. The Hawks won 88-84 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
The NBA didn't punish Howard.
"I'm not trying to be dirty. But I never back down from anybody," Pachulia said. "It's just my character. When I feel like I'm disrespected, I'm there. I'm not backing down. That's what happened. It might be a bad thing, but everybody has their own personality. That's my personality."
Richardson said he has no regrets either, except for having to sit out a potentially pivotal game. He plans to watch the game on television at the team hotel.
"I'm not sorry for what I did," he said. "But I kind of feel bad because I'm not there for my teammates."
The best-of-seven series has taken on a nasty tone. The Hawks accuse Howard of freely swinging elbows when he gets in the lane, while Orlando's coach said Atlanta's big men tend to fall down anytime someone gets near them.
Specifically, Van Gundy mocked 7-footer Jason Collins for going down in Game 3 on a charge by Orlando's 6-foot point guard, Jameer Nelson.
"One thing that frustrates me is all the flopping," the outspoken coach said. "It's amazing to me how many times guys as big Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia get knocked down. You'd think they'd be able to stand up a little bit better."
Collins hasn't been too pleased with some of Howard's tactics, either.
"When the whistle blows, it doesn't end for him," Collins said. "You've got to protect yourself at all times."
At first glance, the suspensions would seem a bigger blow to Orlando. The Magic certainly feel that way, losing their second-leading scorer during the regular season (15.6 points a game) and one of their main defenders on Atlanta star Joe Johnson.
Pachulia is a backup, but the Hawks will clearly miss his emotional style and defensive presence against Howard, who was held to 21 points in Game 3 without a lot of double-teaming, allowing Atlanta to play straight up against Orlando's outside shooters.
"Certainly, he's been an energizer for us," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "He brings another level of energy with his hustle, with his aggressiveness, with his physicality. That's what playoff basketball is all about."
The 6-11, 275-pound Pachulia readily conceded that he banged his forehead into Richardson's several times.
"Maybe the first one or two were a manner of talking. But the third one was a big one," the Hawks player said. "That's a tough situation. Your nerves, tensions are high, people are screaming your name and you just lose yourself."
The Magic felt Pachulia deserved a stiffer penalty.
"It's a little unfair," forward Ryan Anderson said. "You can't just sit there and take a blow like that, three times, from a head-butt. You can't just let that happen. It's a natural instinct to come back at somebody. It's not like he punched him. It was just a little push-away. I think it's a little ridiculous. But what are you going to do?"
Without Pachulia, the Hawks will likely go with a combination of Collins and little-used Etan Thomas against Howard. Collins played only 17 minutes Friday after taking a hard charge from Howard, landing on his tailbone. He said it felt better a day later and there's no doubt he'll be able to go Sunday. The 6-10 Thomas missed Game 3 to attend his grandmother's funeral and played only 13 games during the regular season.
"We still have some big bodies," Drew said. "But the million-dollar question is will those bodies be as effective as Zaza has been? That remains to be seen."
The Magic could turn to Gilbert Arenas to fill some of the scoring void with Richardson out. But the one-time star known as Agent Zero didn't play at all in Game 3, and Van Gundy wouldn't commit to a larger role Sunday.
Someone will have to step up.
"Jason is a key factor on this team," Anderson said. "He's one of our main scorers, a go-to guy. It's going to be tough without him on the court."
As Pachulia talked at his locker, Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins walked up and gave a quick display of shadow boxing.
Wilkins, who's now a Hawks executive and broadcaster, threw punches at a former NBA referee who confronted him after a game last month in a dispute over a clothing bill.
Pachulia smiled and pointed at Wilkins.
"I've been learning from that guy," the center quipped.