Measuring the merit and impact of Kelly Oubre's Game 4 suspension

Kelly Oubre. (Getty Images)

The NBA has come down on Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, in the wake of his shoving match with Boston Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk. The 21-year old forward will have to miss Game 4 of his team’s Eastern semifinal pairing with the Celtics, the league announced Saturday.

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The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.

The by-now infamous tussle took place in the second quarter of Washington’s Game 3 win over the Celtics on Thursday night, as Oubre reacted to an Olynyk shove that he reckoned was emblematic of what he sees as Boston and Olynyk’s aggressive, dirty play.

Whether or not the C’s and the Celtic center do play dirty with purpose is up for debate, but the fact remains that even through just three games the Celtics/Wizards semifinal (with eight technical fouls and three ejections in Game 3 alone) looks as nasty as any recent postseason series we can recall:

Here is the NBA’s statement:

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. has been suspended one game without pay for charging and making forceful and unwarranted contact with Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Oubre was assessed a Flagrant Foul 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:12 remaining in the second quarter of the Wizards’ 116-89 win over the Celtics on May 4 at Verizon Center.

Oubre will serve his suspension on Sunday, May 7, when Washington hosts Boston in Game 4 of an Eastern Conference Semifinals series.

The Wizards and Celtics have battled both on the court and through the media through their burgeoning, barely year-old rivalry. Oubre’s move to topple Olynyk, however, came after the Celtics big man had already put John Wall’s season in jeopardy with a rather dangerous move in Game 2:


Following his team’s loss, Washington coach Scott Brooks gave the sort of sensible, two-way reaction that many expressed in the minutes following the mid-game fight:

“I’m not saying that that was the right thing to do. We have to focus on playing basketball. We can’t control what they’re doing; we just have to control within our gameplan and stay focused. I haven’t talked to him; definitely will talk to him. We’ve got to keep our control. You’ve got to let the referees call those calls. At that particular time, they did call the right call.”

Prior to that top off, Brooks looked at both sides:

“I think we’ve got to control our emotions. We can’t respond that way, but when you get hit in the head a few times, I mean, we’re very competitive guys out there. Two teams that are very competitive,” Brooks told reporters. “You keep getting hit in the head, you might respond that way and I think that’s what he did.”

Everything changes when you get hit, though in the hours prior to his suspension Oubre understandably leaned on Olynyk’s controversial (to give the Boston big the best benefit of our doubt) style of play in order to make a case for his reaction, insisting that he’d been “hit in the head multiple times by the same person,” that other Kelly, prior to his response:


He did follow that up with a joke, however:


Same with Brandon Jennings!


Some Wizards veterans, however, echoed coach Brooks’ initial thoughts on Oubre’s move to dole out his own form of punishment in Game 3. Starting with veteran Bradley Beal, all of 23 years old:

“I was encouraging him. In a situation like that, you’ve just gotta be smart,” Beal said. “You got the call. As much as it may frustrate you, you just continue to do what you’re doing. At that point in the game, that’s what they wanted it to be. They wanted it to be physical and let it get out of hand a little bit. We were up 20 or whatever it was.

“They were kind of playing angry. They were fouling and setting moving screens. That’s going to happen throughout the course of the game. I just told him: ‘we need you. You’re one of our best defenders. You’re constantly getting better. You’re a threat on the floor and we need you. Just make sure that moving forward you are smart about it. If somebody hits you, just move on. Just continue to play smart.'”

CSN Washington’s Chase Hughes relayed that Beal was surprised to see the two Kellys go at it, considering they appeared to have a solid-enough relationship:

“I thought they was cool. That’s what threw me off,” Beal said. “It really takes K.O. a lot to go off. I always see them shake hands. Like, before the game they would shake hands and talk a little bit.”

Isaiah Thomas was similarly shook after Game 3, pushing the boundaries of reason with this statement:


Listen, we’re all out to make people mad. Olynyk’s move against Oubre certainly wasn’t worth what the Wizards swingman doled out in return, but (in spite of the fall to the floor) Olynyk’s top-200 pains at this point have nothing to do with Kelly Oubre.

It’s hardly a no-harm, no-foul situation — Oubre had to be suspended, by the letter of the NBA’s law — but in a league that is seeing fewer and fewer fights and more and more aesthetically pleasing basketball, it was good for the league to decline to drop the hammer too hard in one of the rare, outlier instances. If the league cannot find a better way to consistently penalize iffy moving screens and unnecessary post-whistle contact, the play Olynyk and others appear to specialize in, then it is going to have to allow for some leeway when the pushback inevitably hits.

For now, the Wizards have to find a way to sop up the missing minutes of one of the few — if only — reserves to play consistently well for Washington this season.

Oubre averaged 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20 minutes a contest in 2016-17, his second NBA campaign. Those numbers have sustained through a nine-game playoff run thus far, but while Oubre’s overall output won’t pin anyone’s ears back, his presence is sorely needed: Kelly keeps players like Sheldon McClellan off the floor. Earlier in the season he helped keep Marcus Thornton off the floor.

That’s where the Wizards’ bench has been throughout the season, with Oubre’s most noted role coming in spelling starting forwards Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. Porter averages 38 minutes a game against the Celtics already, though, and he’s taken his fair share of licks in this series. The same can certainly also be said for Morris, who looks lucky to be even playing after a Game 1 ankle sprain. Oubre also had to spell Morris for crucial minutes in Game 2 when Markieff was lost to foul trouble midway through that loss.

Morris is always one play from either Oubre’ing, or Olynyk’ing (depending on your view of Game 3) his way into the locker room, and it will fall on midseason pickup Bojan Bogdanovic to continue his solid play off the pine (over nine points and 3.8 rebounds, with 38 percent three-point shooting, in 20 minutes a contest) for the Wizards. The team’s rotation, skinflint in its best moments, will face its toughest challenge of the year in Game 4 on Sunday. Even at home, and even coming off of a 27-point win.

The weekend remains unsettled for both sides, in what has been by far the most entertaining conference semifinal thus far. Failing certainty from the Washington bench this Sunday, though, do count on some Kellys pushing each other, somewhere. Things tend to get out of hand for us, once the calendar turns to May.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!