I was in a state of shock as I watched this horrific altercation unfold as I sat in the NBA Shootaround studio. I can honestly say I've never seen anything of this magnitude in basketball.
Initially, I didn't understand why this turned into the spectacle that it turned into until I saw the numerous replays. Though I can't justify or defend the actions of the Pacers, I can put myself into the mind-sets of Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Fred Jones and Jermaine O'Neal.
I understand what they were going through after an emotional on-court fight. These players were already emotionally charged and then they were faced with the indefensible actions of the fans. Their involvement proved to be the X factor that caused the incident to escalate.
This all started with Ben Wallace's overreaction to Artest's hard foul of him. Wallace wasn't reacting to the foul but rather to the fact that the Pacers were beating him up all game and Artest had the nerve to foul him with less than a minute remaining. They were more physical and had taken the game right to him and he reacted by shoving Artest in the face.
Artest reacted to that shove to the face exactly the way you'd want a player to -- he walked away and didn't respond. But he's a lightning rod for the Pistons because he's had a number of flagrant fouls in the past and was involved in a flagrant foul with the Pistons during last season's playoffs when he elbowed Richard Hamilton in the face. So it's never easy when Artest is involved.
That said, players overreacting is something that happens all the time. It's not a surprise to see players get heated and respond wrongly and badly to a situation. What was surprising was the fans' involvement in the situation. Usually the players, coaches and referees are able to sort out and deal with the situation. Tonight was different because the fans crossed the line and the players entered the stands.
A fan made himself part of the altercation and that's when it got ugly. Once again, I'm not defending the players' actions: Going into the stands is a mistake. In the end, I feel sorry for the children who were at the game and had to witness this unfortunate situation, and I'm sorry for the children who will watch this terrible incident on the news and will be afraid to go to a sporting venue in the future. I know if my daughter saw this or was close to the situation she'd be terrified and would be scared to go to another sporting event.
There's no doubt that hefty suspensions will come down for this horrible incident. Wallace is going to get at least two games for the initial shove and Artest is going to get some games for going into the stands and grabbing a fan. But Jackson is probably going to get the biggest suspension because he threw the first punch in the stands at a fan, which triggered the aftermath of the initial altercation.
The suspensions will no doubt be weighted because fans were involved, but I believe that shouldn't be an aggravating factor. When fans get involved, they get what they deserve.
Artest will probably receive the brunt of the media condemnation from this situation because he's a lightning rod for controversy. Whatever his responsibility in the incident, it will be overblown because of last week's controversy.
This fight obviously will take the Pacers-Pistons rivalry to the next level. And neither team will truly miss its suspended players because they are both built for April, May and June and will see each other in the Eastern Conference finals.
Tim Legler, an NBA analyst for ESPN and former NBA three-point champion, is a regular contributor to Insider.