I was hoping to post some video of Carmelo refusing to come out of the game, but there was no such event shown on the television broadcast. If reports that the “incident” occurred in the third quarter the likely point in time everything went down was with 1:13 left in the quarter. Kleiza had walked to the scorer’s table waiting to check in. Chauncey Billups made a three to push the Nuggets lead up to seven and Jim O’Brien called a timeout.
At the time I though it was odd that George Karl had Kleiza replace Kenyon Martin as the Pacers had both Murphy and Foster in the game. In fact heading into the timeout the Pacers actually had Rasho Nesterovic and Foster in the game making it even less likely that Karl’s plan was to have Kleiza replace Kenyon.
I checked the game logs and it is not rare for either Carmelo or Kenyon to play the entire third quarter although the substitution took place right about the average time that Melo is removed from the game. (Yes, I did the math and in the 42 games where Melo played in the third quarter, but was not removed due to foul trouble Melo’s average departure time in the third quarter is with 82.6 seconds left. Fifteen times he has played the entire third quarter.)
The point of all that is that the only oddity that was noticeable was that Kleiza came in for Martin to play power forward against a big opposing front line. There was no consternation or signs of disagreement with anyone, but to me there are some questions that need to be answered. Why did Melo not want to leave the game? Why could he and Karl work it out? How did they come to the decision that Martin would be the one to come out of the game?
As far as Melo’s reasoning for not wanting to come out of the game I think it was primarily because he finally starting making some shots. In the first quarter Melo started off ice cold missing his first three shots. With 2:18 left in the first quarter he drove the baseline and was fouled. He made both free throws to score his first two points and then the next trip down the floor he received the ball on the right block, got a pick from Kenyon dribbled twice to his left, rose up and hit a 14 foot jumper. It looked like he might have been hitting a groove and then Karl took him out of the game.
Fast forward to the third quarter and Kleiza got off the bench to enter the game at the 2:20 mark when the game was tied at 62. Melo had just missed a contested 13 foot jumper (another one in a long line of contested jumpers he attempted that night). However, between the time Karl called Kleiza’s name and there was a dead ball Melo hit a (contested) 17 foot jumper in transition and he made a (contested) 22 footer. It was the first time Melo made two consecutive jumpers since the Atlanta game (and that is being generous as those two jumpers were separated by a little break called halftime). Melo had basically played eight straight quarters without making consecutive jumpers. I doubt that he realized that fact, but you better believe he knew he had not been shooting well and may have felt like he was finally heating up.
Now take into account that he plays the entire third quarter about one third of the time (fact), he had done so for three straight games (fact), he had finally hit consecutive jumpers (fact) and that he may have felt like he was removed from the game in the first quarter when he was starting to heat up (speculation) and I can see why Melo would have wanted to stay in the game.
That leads me to my next question. If Melo is starting to feel like he is getting in a rhythm during the timeout couldn’t he and Karl have had a brief discussion and decided that either yes, Melo could stay in the game or no, he may have finally made a couple of jumpers, but they were not quality shots? Pitchers in baseball get to lobby for why they should stay in the game all the time. It is not that difficult of a conversation.
Finally when Melo chose on his own to stay in the game, how did it come to pass that Kenyon took a seat? Was it voluntarily, thus putting the team before himself and showing leadership? Did Karl tell him to sit out? Did Melo ask him to sit out so he could keep playing? Did they do rock-paper-scissors? Of all the games not to have a sideline reporter.
Nevertheless, Melo did respond by hitting a (contested) three on the first possession after the timeout, but he bricked a bad (contested) drifting 20 foot jumper along the left baseline to end his streak of three straight made jumpers. It is interesting to note that Melo remained in the game to start the fourth quarter, but Karl replaced him with Nene less than two minutes in. There was no footage of his demeanor upon leaving the game as the play preceding the stoppage in play was a controversial charging call on J.R. Smith and Altitude was showing the replay and a closeup of the back of J.R.’s head.
When Melo arrived on the bench, he did not sulk or go to the end of the bench in anger of being pulled from the action. He was the closest player to Karl with only Tim Grgurich between the two of them. There were no harsh words or apparent ill will between anyone. The entire episode appeared to be as low key as any transgression I have ever seen a player suspended over although obviously at this point we have no idea what was said in the huddle or after the game.
Of course it is possible that the timeout at the 1:13 mark was not the point where Melo refused to exit the game, but no other point in the third quarter makes any sense.
As I said in my initial reaction, if Melo did indeed disobey Karl, then that is an infraction that cannot be tolerated no matter how cordial the disagreement was. We will see how the team reacts playing in an arena that they have had very little success in over the years.