WASHINGTON (AP) — Jostling and jawing in the fourth quarter, Washington's Nene and Chicago's Jimmy Butler stood toe-to-toe, so close that their foreheads touched.
And when Nene wrapped both hands around the back of Butler's neck and head, that was it for the 6-foot-11 Brazilian, a player who is key to the Wizards' success at both ends of the court. Nene was ejected with 8½ minutes left and Washington trailing by two points in Game 3.
Butler stuck around, hit a couple of 3-pointers the rest of the way, and the Bulls went on to a 100-97 victory Friday night to pull to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
"It looked like an MMA move to me. It was one of those headlocks," said Mike Dunleavy, who led the Bulls with 35 points — one short of his NBA best. "It was great that Jimmy kept his cool. I think a lot of people put in that situation would've started throwing blows."
Asked about the possibility of being suspended by the league for Sunday's Game 4 in Washington, Nene replied: "I don't know."
"I have nothing to regret," he said. "I'm a warrior right there. What I did, I'm supposed to do."
After he scored a basket to get Washington to 78-76, Nene turned to run down court, and he and Butler made contact. Butler put a hand on Nene's side, and Nene swatted it away. They then stood right in front of each other, talking, until Nene reached out to grab Butler. That's when other players stepped in to separate the pair.
"It was a turning point," Chicago's Joakim Noah said. "Emotions were riding high, and just got to keep your composure. You know, I'm not the one to talk; I've been in those situations. But it definitely was a bonus for us to have him out of the game."
Nene wouldn't say what Butler might have said to generate that sort of reaction.
"I didn't think it was that serious, but obviously he thought it was," Butler said. "I was just saying, 'Watch all of that. It was uncalled for.' I'm not mad at him for it. He's a competitor. I respect the guy."
After the fracas, Butler made a 3 to bump Chicago's lead to five points. He hit an even more important 3-pointer with 24 seconds left to break a tie and make it 94-91. He finished with 15 points, after scoring a total of 21 in the first two games.
Nene, who left with 10 points and four rebounds, indicated he thought it wasn't fair that he was kicked out of the game and Butler wasn't.
"We can't really talk about 'what if.' He is a big part of what we do," Wizards forward Trevor Ariza said about Nene, "but if he's not on the court, we need to find ways to win."
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UPDATE: Nene has been suspended for Game 4.
Wiz C Nene suspended 1 game w/o pay for head-butting and grabbing Bulls Jimmy Butler around neck with hands & attempting to throw him down.
— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) April 26, 2014