Monday, April 18, 2011

Despite the Officials Best Efforts the NBA Playoffs Have Been Great

What a crazy weekend in the NBA.  It had everything.  Big upsets (Atlanta beating Orlando, Memphis beating San Antonio and New Orleans beating Los Angeles), last second heroics (Shane Battier and Ray Allen) and some ridiculous individual performances (Derrick Rose and Chris Paul).  There were 8 games and almost every one of them came down to the final possession with the largest margin of victory being only 10 points.

The weekend wasn't without its flaws however and the one that stuck out the most, and when it comes to the NBA always sticks out the most, was the officiating.

No other sport is hurt so much by the refs.  Sometimes NFL games can be ruined by a ref making a bad call or calling a stupid penalty but for the most part the players decide the outcome.  That's not the way it goes down in the NBA though as at times it seems like the biggest stars on the court are the officials.  As Bill Simmons tweeted during the Bulls-Pacers game, "For any Bulls fans attending this game: don't forget, you're not there to see the teams, you're there to see Joey Crawford."

That tweet wasn't far off.  Despite Derrick Rose putting on one of the greatest individual performances I have ever seen in the NBA Playoffs the real star of that game was Crawford.  In that game alone there were 46 personal fouls called as well as 2 technical fouls (one to Pacers coach Frank Vogel and one to Bulls forward Luol Deng).  The final score of that game was 104-99 for Chicago.  The Bulls went 26-32 from the charity stripe meaning that exactly 25% of their total offense came from free throws.

But the Bulls weren't even the biggest benefactors of the whistle happy refs.  In a 101-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies the San Antonio Spurs scored almost 38% of their total points from the line.  They shot a total of 47 free throws making 36 of them.  In that particular game there were a total of 60 personal fouls handed out by Ed Milloy and the rest of his officiating crew.  I watched that whole game and I can promise you there weren't 60 plays that merited a foul call.  It just so happens that every time Tony Parker or George Hill came within 8 feet of the basket a whistle got blown.

In total there were 445 free throw attempts over the weekend.  That averages out to 55.63 free throw attempts per game.  If I had to bet I would say that going forward that number is only going to get higher as well because these officials want to make sure they are "controlling the game" and not letting the players take over.

Here are the guys that got to the line the most over the weekend (Makes/Attempts):

Dwight Howard - 14-22
Derrick Rose - 19-21
Tony Parker - 12-16
Kevin Durant - 12-15
LeBron James - 13-14
Dirk Nowitzki - 13-13
George Hill - 11-13
Chris Paul - 9-12
Chris Bosh - 9-11
Marc Gasol - 6-10

A lot of the guys on the list are players that drive to the basket and actually get fouled (Rose, LeBron and Durant) and Howard just gets hacked every time he touches the ball.  The rest of the guys on the list though, especially Hill, Parker and Nowitzki, just drive to the basket and flail hoping the ref will bail them out, which more often then not they do.

Its not even just the free throws that are brutal.  In two separate games officials made absolutely terrible calls that ended up deciding the game.  The first was a non-call against Kendrick Perkins of the Thunder against the Denver Nuggets and the second was an offensive foul call against Carmelo Anthony in the final minute of the Celtics/Knicks game.

The Perkins non-call was a blatant basket interference call that the refs somehow missed.  With the Thunder down 101-100 Russell Westbrook put up a shot from 15 feet that bounced off the rim and then went in.  The only problem is that Perkins tipped the ball in from under the basket as it was still in the cylinder.  If the refs get that call right then the Nuggets are still up by one point with the ball and 1:06 left to play.  That basket changed the momentum of the game and ended up titling the game in favor of the Thunder.

That non-call is nothing when compared to the atrocious offensive foul call against Carmelo Anthony.  With the Knicks up 85-84 with possession of the ball Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce were jostling for position just outside the post area.  Pierce was holding Melo's left arm and when Melo shook him off Pierce exaggerated and got the offensive foul call.  Was it a foul? No and it is definitely not a foul you call with 21 seconds left in a playoff game.  That gave the Celtics the ball and Ray Allen, being the best clutch shooter in NBA history in my opinion, nails the game winning 3.

Both of those examples gave the home team the advantage and you have to wonder if that's what made the refs blow the whistle.  I personally think its because the officials can't keep up with the speed of the game and they blow the whistle based on assumptions and not based on what they actually see.  Some of the refs in the NBA are in their 60s and 70s and yet they feel they can still run up and down the court with some of the best athletes on the planet.  They see a guy drive the basket in an instant and then see bodies move and they just blow the whistle as a first reaction.

So maybe I am being too hard on the refs.  Then again they are incompetent old men who seemingly want to make sure that basketball games are decided at the free throw line instead of during regular play.  Yet despite the best the officials best efforts the first weekend of the NBA playoffs can be seen as nothing but a major success.

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