League looking into Bowen's actions in Game 3

Bruce Bowen Bowen

SAN ANTONIO -- For the first time in an increasingly contentious Spurs-Suns series, San Antonio forward Bruce Bowen is officially under the league's microscope.

An NBA spokesman confirmed Sunday night that Bowen's third-quarter knee to the groin of Suns guard Steve Nash in Saturday's Game 3 is under review for possible punishment.

If the decision is made to fine or suspend Bowen, or simply upgrade the foul called on the play to a flagrant foul, that announcement would come before Monday night's Game 4.

"I have not heard from the league," Bowen said at the Spurs' Monday morning shootaround, "and I hope it stays that way."

Bowen said he apologized to Nash.

"The reaction of the bench, it's easy to say, 'Oh, that was calculated on his behalf because of who it is.' But I have too much respect for Steve, two-time MVP, a great player, I have respect for him and I wouldn't do anything like that," Bowen said. "It's just part of the game, I think, that you have to be man enough at times, when you do something and it's not the right thing that you've done, you have to be man enough to say, 'Hey, I'm sorry for that.' That's all it was, in the spirit of competition."

The league decided to conduct a full investigation into Saturday's incident after declining to do so when Bowen was accused of intentionally kicking Amare Stoudemire in Game 2.

Stoudemire called Bowen and Manu Ginobili "dirty" players after the Game 2 tangle, in which Bowen admitted he "did clip" Stoudemire from behind on a dunk, but Nash has consistently refused to voice any public displeasure with Bowen's physical play, which the Suns believe was a factor in Nash's 0-for-9 shooting in the first half in Game 3.

On the play in question, Bowen pivoted in an attempt to clear space in the first minute of the second half and landed his knee between Nash's legs. Bowen insisted later that he apologized to Nash immediately.

Bowen told the San Antonio Express-News: "I said to him, 'Now, Steve, you know I didn't try to knee you there,' and he said, 'Yeah, absolutely, Bruce,' and we gave each other five."

In explaining what happened, Bowen said: "He was crowding me, and in this game you're taught to get people off of you. If someone is taking up your space, you have nothing to do. But with all the stuff that is going on with [me], I'm sure that will end up on YouTube."

How the Suns respond from a physicality standpoint to their 108-101 defeat in Game 3 has become the major story line of the series for the two active playoff teams with the best regular-season records.

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni crumpled a box score and stormed off the interview podium on Saturday night when asked about the Spurs' hands-on approach to guarding Nash, saying: "If that's the way everyone wants it, we'll play that way, too."

Yet D'Antoni had cooled off by Sunday, urging his team to fight through the increased contact historically allowed in the playoffs and poking fun at himself.

"Don't quote me from [the podium]," he said. "I was out of my mind. I don't even know what I meant.

"I'm not going to get into [Bowen's knee] just because it doesn't change anything, and we know how they want to play us. It's going to be up to us to draw a line in the sand, and hey, let's play.

"We're going to have to take it to them. We're going to have to be aggressive. We're going to have to be smart with it. We're going to have to be mentally tough, and that's why they put champion beside your name if you can do that.

"To be a champion, you have to acquire this, either by getting it in your gut or by failing. You have to be there, and then you have to get over the hump. And we're not over the hump."

Stoudemire implored league officials to "clean the game up a little bit" as part of a string of complaints against the Spurs following his Game 2 tangle with Bowen.

Bowen said he can't change the way he plays.

"It would be a disservice to my team if I changed the way I played," he said.

After the initial suggestion from D'Antoni that the Suns would respond to the latest incident by pushing back, D'Antoni and Suns guard Raja Bell made it clear that responding with more physicality is not their best hope of evening the series 2-2 and regaining home-court advatange.

"I don't think it's matching elbow for elbow," Bell said Sunday. "Look, you get caught up in that with the Spurs and you will lose. They're good at it. As much as everyone would like to spin it and have us out there fighting [in Game 4], you can't do that. I hope guys understand that's not the answer.

"We've been in the newspapers and people have been making a big deal about that. I'm sure [the Spurs] are having a real good time with it, so it's time to stop talking and say, 'Hey, let's go play.' "

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN writer Elizabeth Merrill was included in this report.