Basketball: Knicks pay the price for brawl

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One of the ugliest play-off games of all time brought a tough response from the National Basketball Association yesterday, with five New York Knicks players being handed one-game suspensions and the Miami Heat forward P J Brown banned for two and fined $10,000 (pounds 6,200).

The in-form Knicks centre Patrick Ewing was among the five players carpeted following the bust-up during the last two minutes of Miami's 96-81 Eastern Conference semi-final victory on Wednesday night.

The result saved Miami from elimination, with Knicks leading the best- of-seven series 3-2. The winners play the defending champions, Chicago Bulls, in the final.

A wrestling match broke out when Brown bodyslammed the Miami guard, Charlie Ward. The forward John Wallace grabbed Brown from behind and several Knicks players came off the bench to join in the struggle. "They're a dirty bunch of guys," Brown said. "I told Charlie [Ward]: `If you want to play football, go back to Florida State'." Ward is a former college quarterback.

The Knicks players Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and John Starks were suspended for leaving the bench during an altercation.

"All of our players served as peacekeepers and the reason they came out was to protect one of their own," Knicks' president, Ernie Grunfeld, said. "It's sad that they have to be suspended. The reason they did it was the right reason."

Along with the suspensions, Knicks were fined $20,000 - $5,000 for each player who left the bench area. Starks was fined an additional $5,000 for making an obscene gesture to the crowd.

None of the suspended players will be allowed to attend the remaining play-off games. "I'm going to be home. Unfortunately, I can't come to the game," Ewing said. "It's going to be tough."

However, because NBA rules require a team to have at least nine front- line players available for a play-off game, the league decided the suspensions of Ewing, Houston, Johnson and Starks would be split between two games and served in alphabetical order.

Ewing and Houston, Knicks' top two play-off scorers, missed game six in New York last night, along with Ward, who has been providing the offence with much needed inspiration.