- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Suns' hopes for a lenient ruling from the league office faded quickly Tuesday night, when it was announced that Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw would indeed receive one-game suspensions for leaving "the immediate vicinity of their bench" during the altercation that followed Horry's hit on Nash in the final minute of a series-tying Game 4 victory in San Antonio.
Horry received a two-game suspension from the league for his flagrant foul on Nash and for striking Raja Bell above the shoulders in the subsequent fracas. The Suns, meanwhile, have lost two-thirds of the trio they use to guard Spurs star Tim Duncan after the NBA rejected their claims that the scuffling seen late Monday wasn't a full-blown fight and that Stoudemire and Diaw never got close to it anyway.
Nash, reached by phone Tuesday night, told ESPN.com that he was too "disgusted" to comment. Spurs officials declined comment.
In a statement released Wednesday, Stoudemire said he thought the NBA should have punished Duncan, too.
"I am disappointed that the NBA looked at the letter of the rule and not the spirit of the rule. I admit I stepped on the court, and that I should have had some more restraint, but Tim Duncan did the same thing but just not in such an aggressive manner. The rules are the rules, and I abide by them, and in that same vein, I think it would be beneficial for the league then to have also taken a further look at Tim Duncan," Stoudemire said.
Immediately after the incident Monday night, Nash had implored league officials to consider the circumstances surrounding Horry's foul, saying at a post-game news conference: "That would be terrible if that silly play at the end of a game, when the game is really over, if that causes a detriment to the rest of the series. That would be ridiculous."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told The Associated Press that he didn't even think Horry's foul on Nash was that bad.
"It was just an end-of-game foul and Steve fell down,"
Popovich said before the penalties were announced. "I didn't think
it was such a big deal."
But NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson told reporters in a conference call after announcing the suspensions that the league's longstanding policy of invoking its leave-the-bench rule without considering additional factors made the Suns' suspensions automatic.
"A precedent wasn't necessary here," Jackson said. "The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear.
"Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are."
Jackson added that Stoudemire and Diaw, in the league's estimation, were "about 20 to 25 feet away from their seats" and headed "towards the altercation" before Suns assistant coaches scrambled them back to the bench.
The Suns countered by saying that Duncan and Bruce Bowen were guilty of a similar leaving-the-bench offense in Game 4's first half when San Antonio's Francisco Elson fell on the Suns' James Jones after a dunk. That play was also reviewed, but Jackson -- while conceding that Duncan "should not have been on the playing court" -- said that the league determined there was "no cause for the suspension rule" to be applied because the Elson-Jones tangle was not deemed to be an altercation.
That will likely only fuel Phoenix's series-long contention that the Spurs have been receiving favorable treatment from the league. Bowen was accused of intentionally kicking Stoudemire in Game 2 and intentionally kneeing Nash in the groin in Game 3. Apart from the foul on Nash being upgraded to a flagrant foul, Bowen went unpunished in both instances.
Speaking specifically about the Horry-Nash incident, Suns owner Robert Sarver told reporters in Phoenix on Tuesday night: "The way this worked out for us, it was, I believe, extremely unfair. . . . The team that plays dirty should not be rewarded and the team that plays fair should not be penalized."
Sarver added that the "first thing on my agenda" for next season will be making a push at ownership level to have the leave-the-bench rule re-examined. Sarver also said that NBA commissioner David Stern has canceled a schedule appearance in Phoenix for Wednesday night's Game 5.
Jackson said the league would consider re-evaluating the policy for next season "if a change is warranted" but insisted that "right now that line is very clear."
"The rule is the rule," Jackson said.
"It's not a matter of fairness. It's a matter of correctness."
Jackson added: "The purpose of the rule is to prevent the escalation of these types of incidents and in turn protect the health and safety of our players and diminish the chance of serious injury [for] our players."
All three of the suspended players, according to Jackson, have the right to appeal their suspensions at the end of the season to perhaps retrieve lost salary, but there is no appeal process that could restore eligibility in time for Wednesday's tipoff.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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