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Cleveland commentators have accused Glen Davis of playing dirty by tugging on Shaq’s thumb moments after Davis injured that thumb on a shot block attempt. Those commentators came to that conclusion after television replays (which we’ll look at below) clearly showed Davis grabbing Shaq’s thumb.
In an interview with the Boston Herald this weekend, Baby claimed the replays were taken out of context—that the the thumb-grabbing they showed happened before the shot block that initially hurt Shaq’s thumb. Here’s Baby:
“I was like, ‘That’s false,’ ” Davis said. “They edited that. That was before he hurt his hand.”
Baby also claimed he and Shaq—who have known each other for years via the LSU connection—have a playful relationship, and that while he might try to (playfully) irritate Shaq during games, he’d never hurt the Diesel on purpose.
But who’s right about the timing of the alleged thumb tug (which, regrettably, sounds like something dirty).
Well, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. The shot block took place at the 7:37 mark of the 2nd quarter, according to play-by-play data. Shaq left the game 39 seconds later. Over those 39 seconds, Cleveland had the ball twice sandwiched around one Boston possession.
The first Cavs possession lasted four seconds, and there’s no evidence of any thumb-wrestling during Boston’s possession.
That leaves the last Cleveland possession.
Let’s fire up the video machine in the crime lab to see what evidence we have against Baby.
Let’s start with the slow-mo replay the commentators used to convict Baby without a trial:
Take note of a few pieces of evidence:
1) Davis starts the clip playing Shaq from the side in a sort of half-front, leaning on Shaq’s left shoulder. Baby’s left arm is reaching across Shaq’s stomach and grabbing Shaq’s right hand;
2) There is a referee standing directly behind Shaq at the start of the clip. After a few seconds, the referee moves to his right along the baseline—or right-to-left on our televisions;
3) Jawad Williams cuts across the foreground from left to right;
4) Tony Allen jogs about a step behind Williams;
5) As the clip proceeds, Shaq and Baby (but especially Shaq) shift their field of vision from the top of the key over to the left wing (i.e. their heads turn right to left on our TV screens);
6) As the clip ends, Davis rotates into a position that is more nearly a traditional fronting stance.
Got all that? Good. Now, let’s watch the possession in question—that second Cleveland possession—in its in-game context (note the time time/score on the bottom of the screen) to see if it matches up with the thumb-tugging replay:
Admit it, guys: This does not look good for Glen Davis. We’ve got Baby leaning on Shaq’s left shoulder; Mo Williams taking the ball from the top of the key to the left wing; the official on the baseline moving right to left; Jawad Williams cutting across above the foul line, followed by Tony Allen a step behind; and increased jostling as Mo readies to throw his entry pass to Shaq.
One other note: You can see a photographer in a light blue shirt snapping photos in the first clip. If you look really carefully, you can see a person who appears to be that same photographer in the same photo-shooting position in the second clip—right behind the official strolling by on the baseline.
Am I missing an on obvious difference between the two clips that exonerates Baby? I sort of hope I am, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made a mistake in life.
But after a bunch of viewings, this appears to be pretty decent evidence that Glen Davis a) tugged on Shaq’s thumb after he knew it was banged up; and b) fibbed about in the Herald or honestly misremembered the chronology of the game when talking to the Herald reporter who did the story.
Our own Brendan Jackson points out two things in Baby’s defense: 1) So much jostling and shady contact happens in a basketball game that Baby really could have no honest and accurate memory of when he grabbed Shaq’s thumb—and he could have done it on multiple possessions. (My response to Brendan is that grabbing Shaq’s thumb on purpose seems like a weird thing to just randomly do, though we’ve seen Reggie Evans and others do some, umm, possibly inappropriate grabbing); and 2) Shaq does not appear visibly upset or pained by the thumb grab, and (as commenter Isuhornet17 points out) didn’t ask out of the game until he caught Williams’ entry pass on this play and tried to grip the ball.
Then again, he’s having surgery and will miss two months, and it’s unknown whether the thumb-grab had any aggravating effect.