PHOENIX - All-star center Amare Stoudemire and Phoenix Suns teammate Boris Diaw were suspended yesterday for one game for leaving the bench after Robert Horry's flagrant foul of Steve Nash in Game 4 of the Suns' Western Conference semifinal against San Antonio.
The NBA also announced Horry was suspended two games for his actions with 18 seconds remaining in the Suns' 104-98 victory at San Antonio on Monday night. Phoenix's victory evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
All three players will miss tonight's Game 5 in Phoenix in the rough, intense showdown between two of the best teams in the NBA. Horry also will miss Friday night's Game 6 in San Antonio.
Horry was suspended for knocking Nash into the scorer's table and striking Raja Bell about the shoulders with a forearm, NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson said in a statement. Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended for leaving "the immediate vicinity of their bench" during the altercation.
The penalties are a severe blow to a Phoenix team that had rallied in the final minutes to beat the Spurs in San Antonio.
"This is a very unfortunate circumstance," Jackson said during a conference call. "No one here at the league office wants to suspend players [for] any game, much less a pivotal game in the second round of a playoff series. But the rule, however, is the rule, and we intend to apply it consistently."
Stoudemire, a first-team all-NBA selection, is averaging team highs of 23.5 points and 10.3 rebounds in the series. His loss removes the Suns' imposing inside presence. Phoenix's problems are compounded by the absence of Diaw, who started when Stoudemire missed all but three games last season because of surgeries on both knees.
Horry, meanwhile, is a role player best known for his clutch three-pointers. He has scored 4.8 points per game.
"I feel it's terribly wrong," Suns owner Robert Sarver said. "I feel we've been unjustly penalized for the fact that we played a clean, hard game. I feel if any team should have been penalized in this series, it should be the Spurs and it shouldn't be us. I feel like I've just been punched in the gut."
Asked if he thought it was a fair decision, Jackson said, "It's not a matter of fairness, it's a matter of correctness, and this is the right decision at this point in time."
Jackson said it was clear that Stoudemire and Diaw had violated the rule, saying they were "20 to 25 feet" from their seats.
"Both players stood and made their way toward the altercation which occurred on the court," Jackson said. "They did not remain in the bench area."
The Suns' coaches quickly pushed the two players back to the bench, but the damage had been done, even though neither player reached the confrontation.
The suspensions deflate a Suns team that finished Game 4 with a 16-3 run to regain home-court advantage.
"I think we had the momentum going," Sarver said, "and for Robert Horry to be rewarded like that, to me, is unbelievable. I can't see the justice in it, but it is what it is. We'll play hard and do the best we can."
Sarver said that seeking a change in the rule would be at the top of his agenda for next season.
"The team that plays dirty should not be rewarded, and the team that plays fair should not be penalized," he said.
Sarver wasn't counting his severely depleted team out.