5 Most Memorable NBA Playoff Brawls

by Rob Joyce

The game of basketball has certainly changed dramatically in the last 15 years. In this era of spacing and three-pointers, long gone are the days where anything short of battery and assault could occur within the confines of the paint area. Also extinct are the instances where a hard foul blows up into a near-fight, as in today’s game that leads to a multi-game suspension.

However the Celtics and Wizards are in a playoff series that’s a blast from the past, a physical, intense battle that’s two parts basketball, one part boxing match. That includes an incident in Game 3, when Washington’s Kelly Oubre went after Boston’s Kelly Olynyk for knocking him down with an excessively hard screen. Oubre was ejected and subsequently ejected from Game 4.

It’s not quite on the level of, say, the heyday of the 1980s, but it’s in the same company as these other playoff brouhahas:

5) 1984 NBA Finals:

It didn’t last long, but the Celtics’ Kevin McHale sent a strong message to the Lakers with his clothesline of Kurt Rambis on a fast break during Game 4. Despite the benches clearing, there was no suspension, or even a fine, for anyone involved. McHale was merely charged with a personal foul, and the game continued on, as Boston took the championship in seven games.

4) 1977 NBA Finals:

Philadelphia’s Darryl Dawkins got tied up with Portland’s Bob Gross going for a rebound during Game 2. After a few words and a thrown punch by Dawkins, he and Maurice Lewis went one-on-one in what nearly became a scene out of Street Fighter. Both participants were ejected, with a fine thrown in for Dawkins, but neither was suspended.

3) 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals:

The Knicks’ Charlie Ward went for the knees of the Heat’s PJ Brown on a free throw attempt during a pivotal Game 5 in Miami. Brown consequently flipped Ward onto the floor and started a kerfuffle with extreme consequences. While the Heat were down Brown for the remainder of the series, three Knicks were banned for Game 6 (Ward, along with Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston, who left the bench), while Larry Johnson and John Starks sat out Game 7 after also leaving the bench. It proved costly, as Miami overcame a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven.

2) 1983 Eastern Conference quarterfinals:

In Game 3 between Boston and Atlanta, the Hawks’ Tree Rollins dunked, and on his way back down the other end got into it with the Celts’ Danny Ainge. It resulted in Ainge piledriving Rollins into the ground, but then things got weird. In the ensuing dogpile Rollins bit Ainge’s middle finger, resulting in two stitches and a classic Boston Herald headline: “Tree Bites Man”. Boston got the last laugh, however, winning the series.

1) 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals:

If it’s good enough to spark a rule change, it’s good enough to make our list. The Knicks’ Derek Harper got into it with the Bulls’ Jo Jo English, inspiring Harper to try and throw a charging English through the floor, initiating a brawl that nearly spilled into the first row of stands. Sitting just feet away? Commissioner David Stern. Harper and English were both suspended and fined, and it led to Stern instituting a new rule that anyone who left the bench for a fight would automatically be suspended for a game.

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