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Cade Cunningham ejected after dunk for ... pointing?

Cunningham went baseline, slammed it through the hoop and was ejected for pointing toward an opponent

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Cade Cunningham delivered perhaps the highlight of his young career with a vicious dunk along the baseline, but the Detroit Pistons rookie didn’t have long to enjoy it because he was ejected from the game seconds later in controversial fashion.

Before we get into the details, though, we should enjoy his dunk against the visiting Phoenix Suns in all its glory.

Cunningham was ejected for pointing toward the direction of an opponent and that was considered “physical taunting,” according to crew chief Kevin Cutler. The technical was his second as he received one earlier in the game for arguing about a foul call and two techs is an automatic ejection.

Asked about the technical after the game, Cunningham said he was pointing to a group of friends who were sitting directly behind the Pistons’ bench, but realized right away the refs assumed he was pointing at one of the Suns’ players.

“I had my people right behind the bench. I went baseline to dunk the ball, and he’s right in between me and my people, so I probably should have read that situation better,” Cunningham said.

The refs presumed Cunningham was pointing at an opponent despite no verbal indication that was so, and while that could have been true, there were multiple explanations for who he could be pointing at beyond an opponent. But the refs made their choice. And it was to remove one of the best young players in the game right after a highlight dunk. It was a ridiculous decision, and, frankly, a little embarrassing for the NBA refs.

Cunningham didn’t get into anybody’s face. He didn’t do anything aggressive. He pointed. After the dunk of the game. And then immediately ran back on defense. The moment had passed. The refs had full discretion on how to interpret what Cade did, and could have freely chosen to do nothing, especially because it would have been Cunningham’s second tech and because no Suns players took it as a personal insult.

After the call, Cunningham didn’t argue with anyone but he went around to his teammates and to Suns coach Monty Williams to deliver a few words. Presumably apologizing to his teammates for getting tossed and to Williams to let him know he wasn’t trying to show anyone up.

The dunk occurred just after Devin Booker delivered a tip dunk of his own, and the Suns star had proclaimed throughout the game how Detroit was “his city.” I’m sure that was sitting in the back of his mind as Cunningham was delivering his own statement on who the city of Detroit really belongs to. But he did it in a typically understated, Cade Cunningham-like way.

Cunningham finished the day with 21 points, 4 assists and zero turnovers in 24 minutes of action. As of this writing (the game is still chugging along in garbage time), Booker had 30 points on 18 shots in 29 minutes.

It was a fun little battle, and a chance for Cade to get a little spotlight since the 1 p.m. tip was the only NBA action going. It’s a shame the refs had to make themselves known.

Pool report with refs:

Crew Chief Kevin Cutler was asked about the ejection following the game by pool reporter Rod Beard of the Detroit News:

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the second technical on Cade Cunningham at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter and just what the interpretation was on that?

CUTLER: After he dunked the ball, he was assessed a technical foul for a physical taunt for pointing at the defender.

QUESTION: One could say it was on that same end as their bench, so whether he was pointing at the bench or pointing at the player, but you’re saying your interpretation is that it was at the player specifically?

CUTLER: Yes.

Full Cunningham statement after the game:

Cade Cunningham spoke after the game and was asked about what happened when he received his second technical. Via Rod Beard of the Detroit News:

“I had my people right behind the bench. I went baseline to dunk the ball, and he’s right in between me and my people, so I probably should have read that situation better. I don’t really get into taunting too much. I’m usually chilling after the play happens or whatever, but. I realized the situation after he tech’d me up, but obviously, I didn’t think I was going to get a tech, so I tried to holler at coach Monty over there and let him know, ‘Good game.’ ”