- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Rockets guard Rafer Alston and Suns forward Matt Barnes were suspended for two games each for their roles in Wednesday's skirmish, with Suns guard Steve Nash receiving a one-game suspension for what the league deemed "escalating the altercation."
"We got in a little pushing match and I get suspended for two games?" Barnes asked the Arizona Republic. "Rafer gets two games and Rafer threw two punches at Steve. Basically what they're saying is you might as well throw two punches because you got the same suspension as someone who threw two punches. Steve comes and tries to break it up and gets thrown to the ground and he gets suspended and T-Mac [McGrady] doesn't get anything. Ridiculous."
Nash was even angrier, saying that he took a punch to the chin from Alston and telling the newspaper: "I understand I did run over to the situation, but who are [league officials] to judge if I was an aggressor or diffuser? I got pushed to the ground. At that point, what was I supposed to do? Get thrown on the ground and get trampled?"
The skirmish started when Barnes plowed through an Alston screen with his shoulder, responding to a previous tangle with Alston and McGrady's earlier hard screen on Nash. Alston charged at Barnes after a long McGrady jumper put Houston up by 19, with Nash insisting that he ran over from the baseline because he believed Barnes had been "attacked" and was "surrounded" by three Rockets. After McGrady shoved Nash down, O'Neal shoved McGrady, Alston and Yao Ming.
"I felt maybe a one-game suspension [was coming], but I can understand them making it 2," Alston told ESPN.com's J.A. Adande via text message. "Barnes should have got more of a fine for the cheap shot."
NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson told ESPN.com: "Steve Nash was penalized for escalating the situation at a time when it appeared that peacemakers [McGrady and Yao] had come between the two combatants [Barnes and Alston]. Nash ran to the scrum not to make peace, but to engage Alston.
"McGrady initially acted as a peacemaker. I think Yao had Matt Barnes and it appeared that Tracy was trying to calm Rafer Alston, but what Nash did by running over there was escalate the altercation. And then it was on, so to speak."
Nash and Barnes sat out the Suns' 97-95 overtime victory Friday night at Sacramento, with Barnes also scheduled to miss Sunday's home game against Detroit. Alston sat out Houston's 77-75 loss Friday night at San Antonio and will miss Saturday's home game against New Orleans.
"Rafer and Matt Barnes, I didn't think [the infractions] were equal because I thought one guy initiated and one retaliated," McGrady told The Houston Chronicle. "The guy that really initiated should have had more games. I don't think Rafer deserved the same amount of games.
"About the [fine], I don't care about that."
McGrady also disputed Barnes' claim that McGrady had set a hard screen on Nash.
"A hard pick?" McGrady said. "That wasn't a hard screen. His [teammate] should have called out a screen. Any screen is hard if your man doesn't call it out and you don't see it. It wasn't a hard screen. [Nash] just didn't see it. I think he already had a pinched nerve in his neck. I don't set hard screens. I don't think [I've] set a hard screen in my career."
Suns president Steve Kerr confirmed that Phoenix will be appealing the rulings, but a successful appeal can only recoup lost fine money, with NBA commissioner David Stern serving as the final arbiter on such disputes.
Nash lost $111,364 in salary Friday night. Barnes will lose $7,251 per game.
Alston's bill comes to $44,545 for each of the two games he'll be forced to miss.
"I thought Phoenix's role was bigger than ours and the league was more severe on Phoenix, which I thought was appropriate," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told the Chronicle.
Said Suns coach Terry Porter: "I just can't believe it. I don't know how exactly they evaluated the whole thing. The tape I saw, I don't come to that conclusion. I can't believe Steve's [suspension]. I just don't get it. He went in there to be a peacemaker and he gets shoved in the back and the guy who shoves him doesn't get suspended. I never saw this coming."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
1mMichael C. Wright