In Game 5 of the NBA finals, Lakers’ power forward Anthony Davis was caught on video in what looks to be a clearly intentional hit aimed at the face of Heat small forward Jae Crowder. Was it a suspension-worthy penalty, and what is the precedent for this kind of hit in the finals games? The fortunes of teams can be decided by small moments like this.

What Did the Camera Show? 

What the camera shows depends on what angle you see the swing from. At the time, no penalties were handed down to Davis from the point of view of officials on the court. However, Heat fans later obtained video that showed an angle calling that choice into question.  In this video, you can see both Davis and Crowder fallen on the court. As they get up, Davis looks to clearly and intentionally reach over and take a swing at Crowder’s face. Upon circulation of the video, fans online immediately raised a cry for Davis to face suspension for his actions.

According to Kurt Helin, sports writer for NBC, this may be an argument dependent on angles. Helin writes, “However, it’s a bit of a camera angle trick.

I’ve been able to view other angles of the incident (which are not public) — particularly the baseline camera angle — and from those angles Davis catches Crowder more in the neck and pushes him, it’s not a punch. It should have been a common foul in my view, but from those angles you could even debate if it’s a foul.”

What is the Precedent For an Incident Like This?

Jae Crowder

Most notably, this incident recalls the fate-changing exchange between Draymond Green and Lebron James in 2016. Already on the rocks for his behavior, Green was banned from one contest after a video showed him swatting James in the crotch, while also reportedly calling him a, “b—-.” It’s highly probable that Green’s suspension changed the course of the 2016 playoffs. Are Heat fans tilting at windmills in the hope of stopping the Lakers from rolling to victory? It seems likely given that the Lakers are still favored to come out on top this year. 

What Happens Next?

Anthony Davis

Retroactive penalties are not unheard of in the NBA. In fact, Davis himself was the recipient of a retroactive flagrant foul against Rockets forward Jeff Green in September. Whether or not one will be awarded here remains to be seen. The Lakers hold a 3-2 lead in the series. A suspension of their power forward right now could be playoffs-changing, but the fact that different angles show a different story mean this isn’t a clear-cut issue. What happens next depends on whether the officials agree with the video seen after the game, and what both teams bring to Game 6 on Sunday.