The Cleveland Cavaliers' 114-111 overtime playoff victory against the Atlanta Hawks may have showcased LeBron James' knack for clutch performances, but it also had arguably the most controversial call of the postseason.
Near the end of the first half, Hawks center Al Horford got tangled up with Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova, elbowing him in the shoulder as he fell on top of him. Referees gave Horford a flagrant-2 foul, automatically ejecting him from the game. Dellavedova received a technical foul.
The decision to give Horford a flagrant 2 sparked criticism since many pundits believed he didn't intentionally try to elbow Dellavedova. In addition, the technical call on Dellavedova implies he wasn't simply a bystander in the fracas. Shouldn't the refs have given Horford a flagrant-1 foul if they believed Dellavedova's actions warranted a technical?
The NBA defended the referees' decision in a statement after the game: "Horford threw an unnecessary and excessive forearm/elbow to Dellavedova, making contact above the shoulders, therefore a flagrant-2 foul was called on Horford, who was ejected from the game, and Dellavedova received a technical."
Cavaliers Coach David Blatt said he didn't receive an explanation for Dellavedova's technical, but Horford said he believed the guard tried to take out his knees.
"I did think he went at me, but I should've handled it better," Horford said. He then stated Dellavedova has a "track record" for "careless" play.
"I mean he's only been in this league for a couple of years or whatever, but he's gotta learn that at the end of the day it's a big brotherhood here," Horford continued. "Guys look out for each other and, I don't think that it was malicious, but he's gotta learn."
Dellavedova disagreed with Horford's take on the incident.
“I was boxing him out,” Dellavedova said. “You can see from the baseline view that he's pulling my arm.”
James came to his teammate's defense, saying Dellavedova isn't a dirty player.
“We're not trying to get people hurt,” James said. “But you play to win the game and you play aggressively. This guy, he works his tails off every single day. He beats the odds and he comes to play as hard as he can every single night. If they're focusing on Delly, they're focusing on the wrong thing.”
Horford could be subject to further discipline from the NBA as the teams prepare for Tuesday's Game 4. The Cavaliers lead the best-of-seven series, 3-0.