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April 11, 2017

A look at the greatest hits of Gerald Henderson, world-class agitator

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One of the lasting images of the 2017 Masters was Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, two good friends going head-to-head for their first green jacket, high-fiving on the back nine multiple times after trading incredible golf shots while under an incredible amount of pressure.

Judging strictly from my Twitter timeline, that scene was met with a mixed reaction. Some applauded the show of sportsmanship while others criticized what they felt was a lack of competitive edge. If you found yourself in the latter camp, the back-and-forth between the Sixers’ Gerald Henderson (an excellent golfer in his own right) and Indiana’s Paul George on Monday night would have been refreshing.

I don’t foresee many high-fives in their future.

Late in the fourth quarter, Henderson got tangled up with George and pulled him down to the ground for a foul. There was some ever-so-slight bumping as both players got up from the hardwood, but any contact was incidental. Their teammates got in the middle before anything serious could happen, but both Henderson and George were still assessed double techs on the play. That call would prove to be important, because…

This brouhaha wasn’t close to over. Less than two minutes later, George scored a tough two in the paint on Nik Stauskas, who is not Gerald Henderson. While running back on defense, George went out of his way to elbow Henderson in the back. Nothing vicious at all, but definitely an unnecessary jab.

On the next possession, George was checking Henderson on defense. Henderson received a ball screen on the wing and had George on his left hip entering the lane. Despite this, Henderson decided to ward George off with his left arm. Well, “ward off” in a loose sense.

The result was a well-placed elbow directly to George’s throat. After a lengthy review, the Sixers swingman was unsurprisingly ejected from the game due to a flagrant 2. There was a catch, though, as George also received another technical, which meant that he was also booted from the game. Henderson had pulled off a textbook “Eric Snow,” which is when a Sixers role player gets ejected along with the other team’s star.

The Pacers held on for the win, but George was very unhappy with the officials afterward. In fact, PG-13 bumped up to R due to language.

From an impartial point of view, George has a legitimate beef with the calls. The two techs both seemed unnecessary, as the first one probably should have just been a common foul on Henderson (who called the double tech “a cop out” after the game) and the second one only a flagrant on Henderson. At the same time though, deciding to elbow Henderson in the back (which went unnoticed) wasn’t a smart move if his goal was to remain in the game.

That is because Henderson, who is under control off the court and in the locker room, can have one of the shortest in-game fuses in the NBA. Brett Brown calls him an “elite competitor,” which is exactly how a coach should compliment the player on his team that routinely infuriates opponents.

“I play physical,” Henderson said. “Sometimes scraps are going to happen. That’s just the nature of the game.”

A quick trip to YouTube reveals some of Henderson’s greatest hits as an agitator, like the time Anderson Varejao reacted to his physicality by tripping him in last year’s playoffs.

How about when Quentin Richardson two-hand shoved Henderson in the face after the two were jawing a while back?

That wasn’t Henderson’s only run-in with that group of Orlando Magic players. He was arguing pretty good with #FormerSixer Jason Richardson and Q-Rich here.

Alan Anderson was ejected from a game last season after taking exception to Henderson’s physical brand of defense.

DeMarcus Cousins isn’t exactly the most difficult player in the NBA to bait into a technical foul, but Henderson does it expertly here by standing in his way near the bench.

Henderson then got under Boogie’s skin when the Sixers played in Sacramento earlier this season.

Henderson was also ejected late in February game in Boston this season.

“I didn’t intentionally try to hit him,” Henderson said of George. “As I came off the screen, I knew the contact was coming so I tried to bump him. I didn’t try to hit him in the face, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Maybe that is the case. Perhaps the most memorable play of Henderson’s college career was when his other elbow made Tyler Hansbrough bleed his own blood, a clip that is still shown before every Duke-UNC game. Henderson maintained his innocence that day as well, but just like last night, accidents can happen when you play that style of basketball all the time. Bad accidents, even.

Not that the Sixers are complaining. While his $9 million salary for next season is non-guaranteed, the front office should consider picking such a reasonable contract up. With all of the young talent that will be on the floor next year, there is still value in having a tough, physical veteran in the fold who can still play.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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