ATLANTA — The NBA suspended Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia and Orlando's Jason Richardson for Game 4 of an increasingly testy Eastern Conference playoff series after their altercation in the closing minutes of the third game.
The league's disciplinarian, vice president Stu Jackson, was on hand for the contest at Philips Arena and needed less than 24 hours to announce his decision Saturday.
Pachulia will sit out Sunday night's game for head-butting Richardson and fighting. The Magic player was suspended for shoving Pachulia in the face and fighting. Both also will forfeit one game's pay.
With about 2½ minutes to go Friday night, Pachulia took exception when Dwight Howard swung his elbow after a hard foul, responding with an elbow of his own. Richardson jumped in and was head-butted several times by Pachulia as they jawed with each other. Richardson responded with a slap to Pachulia's face before Howard pulled away his teammate.
Pachulia and Richardson were both ejected, and Howard received a technical. The Hawks won 88-84 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
The NBA didn't punish Howard.
"I'm not trying to be dirty. But I never back down from anybody," Pachulia said. "It's just my character. When I feel like I'm disrespected, I'm there. I'm not backing down. That's what happened. It might be a bad thing, but everybody has their own personality. That's my personality."
Richardson said he has no regrets either, except for having to sit out a potentially pivotal game. He plans to watch the game on television at the team hotel.
"I'm not sorry for what I did," he said. "But I kind of feel bad because I'm not there for my teammates."
At first glance, the suspensions would seem a bigger blow to Orlando. The Magic certainly feel that way, losing their second-leading scorer during the regular season (15.6 points a game) and one of their main defenders on Atlanta star Joe Johnson.
Pachulia is a backup, but the Hawks will clearly miss his emotional style and defensive presence against Howard, who was held to 21 points in Game 3 without a lot of double-teaming, allowing Atlanta to play straight up against Orlando's outside shooters.
The 6-foot-11, 275-pound Pachulia readily conceded that he banged his forehead into Richardson's several times.
"Maybe the first one or two were a manner of talking. But the third one was a big one," the Hawks player said. "That's a tough situation. Your nerves, tensions are high, people are screaming your name and you just lose yourself. Maybe I've got to be more careful. But that's a very tough situation. Very few people can control themselves in that situation, especially when you know my character. It's tough to control myself."
The Magic felt Pachulia deserved a stiffer penalty.
"It's a little unfair," forward Ryan Anderson said. "You can't just sit there and take a blow like that, three times, from a head-butt. You can't just let that happen. It's a natural instinct to come back at somebody. It's not like he punched him. It was just a little push-away. I think it's a little ridiculous. But what are you going to do?"
The best-of-seven series has taken on a nasty tone. The Hawks accuse Howard of swinging elbows anytime he gets in the lane, while Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said he's tired of Atlanta's big men falling down when they're barely touched.
Specifically, the outspoken coach mocked 7-footer Jason Collins for going down in Game 3 on a charge by Orlando's 6-foot point guard, Jameer Nelson.
"One thing that frustrates me is all the flopping," Van Gundy said. "It's amazing to me how many times guys as big Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia get knocked down. You'd think they'd be able to stand up a little bit better."
Collins came right back at Howard, accusing him of being a little too loose with elbows.
"When the whistle blows, it doesn't end for him," Collins said. "You've got to protect yourself at all times."
Without Pachulia, the Hawks will likely go with a combination of Collins and little-used Etan Thomas against Howard. Collins played only 17 minutes Friday after taking a hard charge from Howard, landing on his tailbone. He said it felt better a day later and there's no doubt he'll be able to go Sunday. The 6-10 Thomas missed Game 3 to attend his grandmother's funeral and played only 13 games during the regular season.
"We still have some big bodies," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "But the million-dollar question is will those bodies be as effective as Zaza has been? That remains to be seen."
The Magic could turn to Gilbert Arenas to fill some of the scoring void with Richardson out. But the one-time star known as Agent Zero didn't play at all in Game 3, and Van Gundy wouldn't commit to a larger role Sunday.
"Jason is a key factor on this team," Anderson said. "He's one of our main scorers, a go-to guy. It's going to be tough without him on the court. At the same time, we've got some guys who can step up and score."