After getting into a brief shoving match and altercation late in Friday’s Game Three, the NBA has suspended Atlanta Hawks center Zaza Pachulia and Orlando Magic guard Jason Richardson for Sunday’s Game Three. The Hawks lead the series 2-1.
For both teams this is a pretty big loss.
Richardson has been the primary defender on Hawks star Joe Johnson and even though he has had mixed results on both sides of the ball, he is likely Orlando’s best option at slowing down Johnson. Johnson is averaging 16.4 points per 36 minutes and shooting 44 percent from the floor. With Richardson on the floor at the same time, Johnson is averaging 16.4 points per 36 minutes and has a +4.3 per 36 minutes, according to the NBA.com Stats Cube.
Richardson is not prividing a ton offensively, shooting only 30 percent from the floor and 27 percent on 3-pointers.
Pachulia does not have the same scoring impact as Richardson, but his six fouls and defense on Dwight Howard have been valuable this series. According to the NBA.com Stats Cube, Howard is averaging only 18.0 points per 36 minutes while Pachulia is on the floor. That is mostly directly against each other. Howard posts 30.6 points per 36 minutes while Pachulia is off the floor. Howard also commits nearly five fouls per 36 minutes while Pachulia is on the floor.
Their absence in Game Four could be a key difference for one of the squads. Considering how poorly the Magic have played offensively this series, it might be a bigger loss for the Magic. Orlando is still looking to find its rhythm offensively three games in. Richardson’s absence likely mean either Quentin Richardson or J.J. Redick will start and Gilbert Arenas could be seeing playing time again, something Stan Van Gundy elected not to do in Game Three.
Richardson offered no regrets over his actions while expressing his disappointment in the suspension via twitter: “Hard part about this is not being able 2 be out there with my teammates. I wouldn’t change anything that happen last night because 1) I was protecting a teammate and 2) I was protecting myself. I appreciate all the support. I’ll be back and ready for game 5.”
Conversely, Pachulia is a guy who can provide a lot of energy and is great at getting under the opponent’s skin. That is exactly what he did in drawing the technical foul on Howard that preceded the skirmish, Howard’s second of the postseason. Atlanta will certainly miss Pachulia’s energy and defensive prowess Sunday night.
Pachulia also took to twitter to encourage his teammates: “It’s very disappointing that I won’t be able to play tomorrow but I believe in our guys and I’m sure we will win game 4. Go Hawks!”
Game Four should be another toss up game between these two teams that are surprisingly well matched up. Atlanta has had control for portions of every game in the series and look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead Sunday night at 7 p.m. on TNT.