Jake Voskuhl: Enforcer

I didn't focus on this point in the game recap, primarily because it's tangential to the outcome of the game.  I do not in fact believe that the Clippers would have won had Zach Randolph not been hurt.  It's not like Randolph is the defender to stop Chris Bosh, and Bosh's 18 fourth quarter points were insurmountable, regardless of who was playing offense for the Clippers.  Zach's absence certainly contributed to the final margin, but not to the outcome.

However, I am surprised by the coverage of this aspect of the story that I have seen. 

Let's be clear.  It was significant.  The Clippers had whittled a 21 point lead down to 6, despite the fact that Zach Randolph had missed most of the first quarter with foul trouble.  Nonetheless, Randolph was leading the team with 19 points at the time, and had led the comback.  In a single play, the Raptors increased the lead to 8, and sent Randolph to the locker room for the rest of the game, ending any hope of a comeback.

 

Toronto Raptors vs L.A.Clippers Dec.22/08 (via monuow)


Take a look.  I couldn't find the Clippers broadcast, which contains better angles, on YouTube.  But you can clearly see the shove in this as well .  The play in question is about 4:45 into the video.

But I have yet to see an account that got it right.

For the record, here's what happened.  Jake Voskuhl, who doesn't really do justice to the term 'NBA journeyman', was making his second appearance of the season after being signed by the Raptors last week.  On Baron Davis' three pointer on the preceding play, Voskuhl and Zach Randolph had gotten tangled battling for rebounding position.  On the other end, after Chris Bosh bulled his way in for a layup, Voskuhl almost literally crashed the boards, shoving Z-Bo in the back with both hands in the process.  Randolph went sprawling to the floor, falling over DeAndre Jordan who had tried to draw the charge against Bosh to no avail.  Randolph bruised his knee in the fall, and spent the rest of the game in the locker room.  X-rays on his knee were negative.

Lisa Dillman of the LA Times writes about the loss of Randolph, but doesn't even have Voskuhl at the scene.

Randolph suffered an injury 1:16 into the fourth quarter, tumbling to the floor, joining teammate DeAndre Jordan, who already had landed hard. Both were trying to deal with the Bosh onslaught.

It was evident fairly quickly that Randolph was injured when he grabbed his knee in pain. He went back to the locker room and did not return.

Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy reported Randolph suffered a sprained left knee. The good news, Dunleavy said, is that the X-rays are negative.

"Bosh pushed me in the back, yeah," Randolph said. "Hopefully, it's just a bone bruise, so I'm just going to ice it in the next couple of days. It's just a little sore."

Obviously, that's Randolph incorrectly blaming Bosh.  In Zach's defense, he couldn't see who pushed him, but it clearly wasn't Bosh, who was in FRONT of Z-Bo at the time.

The AP wire story makes it all sound like good old, innocent, incidental contact:

Randolph had 19 points and eight rebounds for Los Angeles during a foul-plagued 28 minutes, and left the game with 10:44 to play after bruising his left knee in a collision with Jake Voskuhl on a layup by Bosh 16 seconds earlier.

Um, no.  Voskuhl pushed Randolph - hard - from behind.  Randolph's knee collided with the hardwood.

The Toronto Sun has Randolph clumsily falling down unassisted.

The Clips also lost Randolph with just under 11 minutes to go in the game when he bruised his left knee falling over a teammate as he went up for a loose ball.

Silly Zach.  Be more careful next time!

The gamer in the Toronto Star makes no mention of Jake Voskuhl nor of any injury to Randolph.  Here's the one and only reference to Zach:

Eric Gordon and Zach Randolph led the Clippers with 19 points apiece.

Anyone reading that recap, who also had access to a play by play, would certainly be surprised that the Clippers chose to remove their leading scorer from the game for the final 11 minutes.  The omission seems all the more surprising to me given that beat writer Dave Feschuk wrote a piece about an increase in no-calls in the NBA this season.  Hmmm, really significant no-call in the game I just watched in which a team's star was injured.  Wouldn't want to mention that.

In fact, I was only able to find one semi-accurate reference anywhere to the play.  It was in Doug Smith's Raptor's blog in the Star. 

Action: Jake Voskuhl’s tough.

Reaction: Providing something they need.

I remember the day they signed Jake and a guy who knows him a little bit had this to say, or words to the effect:

"Jake’s a real good guy. Yeah, he’ll smack someone in the face if he has to, or hammer someone. But then he’ll say ‘sorry’ and he’s a nice guy."

Well, watching him last night and I’m not sure if there’s an apology but going hard after a rebound without a care in the world who was in his way –- it turned out to be Zach Randolph – was something you don’t see from the Raptors often enough.

Not a dirty play, just a good, aggressive one.

Apparently, when a MSM columnist writes in a blog, it's an excuse for them to use horrid syntax and incomplete sentences.  I would not agree with his conclusion that it was 'not a dirty play' but at least he saw the significance.  And frankly, from the Raptors perspective, it was the play of the game, whether the team on the whole needed an injection of toughness or not.

The inconsistent, incomplete, inaccurate coverage of the incident aside, the implications of a play like that should, in my opinion, be making David Stern and the league office more than a little uneasy.  Jake Voskuhl, a career 4.3 point per game scorer who had played 6 minutes this season, sends Zach Randolph, a career 17 point per game scorer averaging 22 this season, to the locker room a little more than 100 seconds after entering the game.  Am I suggesting that it was pre-meditated?  Not in the sense that Jay Triano sent him into the game to take Randolph out.  But in the context of the preceding play, it sure looks like Voskuhl was happy to give Randolph a good hard shove.  More importantly, the whole thing has the APPEARANCE of impropriety.  The NBA certainly can't condone an action in which a guy recently signed off the waiver wire sends the opposition's leading scorer to the locker room for X-rays.  That's a good strategy for winning right there. 

Although the game has changed over the years, there's a long tradition of enforcers in basketball, and it wasn't that long ago that players' were sent into games with specific instructions.  In fact, current Clipper Mardy Collins was likely following orders from Isiah Thomas (he of the Bad Boy Pistons from that by gone era) when he started a brawl in Madison Square Garden with the Nuggets two seasons ago.  And Robert Horry's hip check on Steve Nash in an already decided game was the biggest play in the series between the Suns and Spurs in the 2007 playoffs.  Horry was clearly the Spurs' MVP in that series, and Voskuhl deserves serious consideration for game honors from the Raptors last night.

Hopefully the league office will review the play and issue a fine and suspension to Voskuhl.  If I were the Clippers, I'd be asking the question, that much is certain. How all three refs missed the play in the first place is an entirely different question.

Although they don't admit it, the NBA 'protects' their stars, in sometimes ludicrous ways.  The motive is understandable - Jake Voskuhl doesn't sell tickets to games, but Zach Randolph does.  Unfortunately, this policy usually manifests itself in counter-productive ways - superstars get the benefit of every call, making players like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James even more unstoppable than they already are.  And obviously it doesn't help Wade avoid injury to allow him to stretch the discontinued dribble or traveling rules.  Well, here's a case where a star player actually needs to be protected.  The prospect of Jake Voskuhl sending Zach Randolph to the locker room is fraught.  The NBA certainly doesn't condone this behavior, and I don't think it would be wise to ignore it.

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