Will NBA suspend Dillon Brooks for LeBron James punch? ‘I wouldn’t be surprised’

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LOS ANGELES – It brought back memories of Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and I said as much to LeBron James last night as I asked him the following question:

Should Dillon Brooks be suspended?

“I mean, I don’t know. I’m not part of the committee,” James said.

Seven years ago, the stakes were higher and the circumstances a little more complicated. Near the end of Game 4 of the Finals, James tangled with the Warriors’ Draymond Green and stepped on him in an attempt to lure him out. It worked. As Green stood up, he took a swing at LeBron’s nether regions.

No foul was called on the punch in real-time, so the question for James and the Cavaliers after that game was something along the lines of … The NBA should take a look at the play? Green was one technical foul away from a one-game suspension. The league saw it, assessed the technicality and Green missed Game 5.

In Game 3 of the Western Conference first-round series on Saturday, with James on the Lakers and playing against the Memphis Grizzlies, LeBron was dribbling up the floor against Brooks, who started the trouble last week by calling James “old,” “tired.” And claims that LeBron is not as good a player as he used to be.

With the third quarter just underway, the Lakers would lead by 14 to win the game 111-101, and in the midst of Brooks’ personal bad play, James went behind him with the ball, and Brooks took a swipe with his back. His hand, connecting with the same vulnerable area, that Green targeted in ’16.

This time, James got crushed on the court. The referees looked at the play on video and assessed a flagrant-2 foul on Brooks, which was an automatic ejection.

I remember Cleveland’s press conference room being terrible that June night, just as it is in the cement-brick, dignified garage the Lakers now set aside for conferences. I remember LeBron sitting in front of the blue, NBA backdrop, as he was last night.

Here we all were again, talking about the punishment for punching LeBron in the groin. But what’s wilder is Brooks’ fate tied to Leila’s — not because of what happened in 2016, but last week. The NBA sat green and could have easily used the same justification to suspend Brooks for Game 4.

In Game 2 of the Kings-Warriors series last Monday, Domantas Sabonis, who had fallen to the ground, grabbed Green’s legs as Green tried to run down the court. Green responded by stomping on Sabonis’ chest and was ejected. The league suspended him for Game 3, and NBA executive vice president Joe Dumers said the suspension was partly because of what Green did and also because of his track record for similar acts.

Brooks undoubtedly has a track record. His status for Game 4 — which is Monday in LA, with the Grizzlies trailing in the series after losing Game 3 — depends on whether the NBA was going for Brooks Ball in Memphis’ pretext instead of… well… you know.

Officials for Game 3 certainly didn’t believe it, and Grizzlies star Ja Morant thinks his teammate might be headed for a suspension.

“Knowing how they (NBA league office) are treating Dillon, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is (suspended),” Morant said. “I thought he was out because of the past ejections that happened in previous games. If you look at the play, he was actually reaching for the ball on the crossover, Braun just went behind the back.

“Obviously he got hit in a place that’s hard for a man. So, flagrant-1, right. But the ejection? I don’t agree with that at all.”

Brooks declined an interview request The AthleticAnd he was escorted out of the arena by Grizzlies security and his friends.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins would only say that “the officials made the call.” Desmond Benn said Brooks’ “spirits were high” and he was “remorseful” when the team returned to the locker room. The league office was wise not to tempt the office too much by commenting publicly, but he is certainly looking into the possibility that he could be out for Game 4.

This year alone, Brooks committed so many technical fouls that he earned two one-game suspensions during the regular season. He punched Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell in the groin, starting a fight. In last year’s playoffs, he clubbed Gary Payton II in the head on a layup attempt, and was ejected for it.

And then to top it all off, he had already verbally targeted LeBron.

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It was the dominant story in the NBA this week – Brooks, a role player without many accolades to his name, blasted the face of the league and is arguably the greatest player of all time. James showed no intention of engaging Brooks in a war of words during the press conference, but he and Brooks were caught on camera talking near midcourt before the game. LeBron responded with eight first-quarter points (25 for the game) and the Grizzlies … didn’t. They suffered one of the worst first quarters in NBA playoff history. Brooks, meanwhile, shot 3 of 13 before being ejected.

“I hope the moment wasn’t too big for us,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully our guys will respond in Game 4.”

The day before Game 3, Jenkins said he didn’t mind Brooks and his other players being trash talkers, but he constantly reminded them they had to back up the chatter. Last night, the Grizzlies certainly didn’t do that. Morant, too, with a game-high 45 points, scored 22 straight in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially out of reach.

The Grizzlies would do well to blow away all of the Brooks-LeBron stuff, as this series will no longer be about Brooks’ challenge for all-time greats. It’s a big ticket item.

The NBA must make a decision on whether Brooks will play in Game 4 on Monday night. Working against him is his track record, his effusive rhetoric and the motive for his own frustration from a hard night.

For those trying to compare what Brooks did to, say, Joel Embiid isn’t suspended after kicking Nick Claxton on Thursday, or James Harden isn’t suspended for hitting Royce O’Neal in the groin (seriously, what’s with all that low ? blows in these playoffs?), it comes back to the big picture of established patterns of behavior.

The ruling levied against Leila — past puncturer of LeBron’s groin — would certainly apply to Brooks. The case, and precedent, is for suspension.

(Photo of LeBron James: Harry Howe/Getty Images)

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