World Peace threw down a dunk to draw the Lakers to within one, 48-47, with 1:39 remaining in the second quarter. As he made his way back up the court, World Peace started to beat his chest in celebration before striking Harden, who was behind him, in the back of the head with his left elbow, causing the Oklahoma City guard to fall to the floor.
Harden stayed down and play was stopped for several minutes while the referees separated Lakers and Thunder players who were arguing and the flagrant 2 determination was only made after the collision was reviewed on a video monitor at center court.
Harden, who had 14 points, did not return to the court in the second quarter. Harden was diagnosed with a concussion, according to the Thunder. He will fly back with the team to Oklahoma City and his status for the Thunder’s final two regular season games is uncertain.
Harden was the first player to leave Oklahoma City’s locker room after the game and did not address the media.
World Peace issued a statement to reporters in the locker room after the game, but did not entertain any questions.
“During that play I just dunked on (Kevin) Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and I got really emotional and excited and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow,” World Peace said. “I hope he’s OK. The Thunder, they’re playing for a championship this year, so I hope that he’s OK and I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden.
“You know, it was such a great game and it was unfortunate so much emotion was going on at that time. … That’s it for today.”
World Peace appeared to plead to an official that his elbow was inadvertent and only a result of his chest-thumping celebration motion.
“I saw it happened and it was a very hard hit,” Ibaka said. ” … That’s the first I’ve seen anything like that happen live. I was surprised. I went up to him to ask him why he did that and he wanted to fight me too. I don’t know what he was thinking. I have no idea.”
World Peace later addressed the foul on Twitter.
“Hope James Hardin (sic) is ok…,” World Peace wrote. “I remember when I hit by Marc Gasolthe same way.. I was spitting up blood and a headache during the game…”
“I just watched the replay again….. Oooo.. My celebration of the dunk really was too much… Didn’t even see James ….. Omg… Looks bad,” he tweeted.
Harden now faces a rigorous process before he can return to action under the NBA’s recently instituted concussion policy.
A player diagnosed with a concussion must complete a series of steps to confirm that he’s healthy enough for competition. Once he is symptom free, the player must make it through increasing stages of exertion — from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills — while ensuring the symptoms don’t return after each one.
World Peace will however have to deal with the NBA league office, which reviews every flagrant foul to determine if a suspension is warranted. The Lakers have one game remaining in the regular season Thursday in Sacramento before the playoffs begin next weekend. If World Peace receives a multigame suspension for the act, he will serve the first game against the Kings and any subsequent games in this year’s postseason, rather than at the start of the 2012-13 regular season, according to a league source.
“It was a bad play. There’s no way around it,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s a dangerous play. It’s not a play that should be involved in basketball. It’s unfortunate that it happened. I know Ron. Unfortunately it did happen but you can’t do that. It’s unacceptable.”
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant thought that World Peace would “probably” be suspended.
“I can’t speculate (how many games),” Bryant said. “I’m sure he’ll have some type of a suspension. And James, I hope he’s OK. I haven’t heard anything about how he’s doing, but he’s one of my favorite players in the league, one of my young boys, so I hope he’s doing all right.”
Lakers coach Mike Brown said he had not seen the replay of the foul after the game, but addressed the possibility of moving forward without World Peace if and when a suspension is levied by the league.
“Metta’s been extremely important to us on both ends of the floor,” Brown said. World Peace came into Sunday averaging 14.2 points on 47.8 percent shooting in 12 games in April, both well above his season averages. “It’d be a big blow to us (if he is suspended) … We need him on the floor as much as possible.”
The Lakers pulled within one point on World Peace’s dunk, but fell apart after the ejection, managing just 14 points in the next 14 minutes.
L.A. was able to rally for the win, but Bryant warned that a future ejection could cost the Lakers a victory in the future.
“Him getting ejected could have really hurt us,” Bryant said. “In that sense, he’s really going to have to control himself and pay attention in those moments where he doesn’t erupt too much.”
Lakers center Andrew Bynum said World Peace told teammates after the game that he was hoping he would still be eligible to play in the first game of the playoffs.
World Peace was making major contributions to the Lakers on both ends of the court before his ejection for yet another unpredictable outburst in the erstwhile Ron Artest’s long history of misbehavior.
World Peace, who changed his name last year, has been mostly well-behaved during his three seasons with the Lakers, yet he’ll always be most famous for his 86-game suspension for participating in the brawl in the Palace of Auburn Hills stands while playing for Indiana in November 2004.
World Peace has done wonders to repair his reputation following the brawl, including raffling off his 2010 championship ring to raise more than $650,000 for mental health charities and winning the NBA’s citizenship award following the 2011-12 season.
“One play in the heat of a battle, all of the sudden it changes his perception as a man and as a person? No,” Bryant said. “Everybody, all you guys know what a sweet guy he is.”