I am not generally one to complain about the officiating. In fact, I do not think I have written a word about unbalanced officiating this season. I may carp about an individual call here and there, but I've played enough basketball to realize that it usually evens out. Even when the Lakers shot 46 free throws compared to the Clippers 21, I put the responsibility on the Clippers for not playing aggressively enough.
But there was some strange officiating and some truly horrible calls in last night's game, and they all went against the Clippers.
Total fouls - I expressed surprise in last night's post at the fact that in the final boxscore, the Clippers had 22 fouls, and the Heat had 21. Well, guess what? At the end of 3 quarters, it was 17 to 11. There was one stretch of 11 minutes from the end of the 1st quarter until 3 minutes before half, when 9 fouls were called on the Clippers, and 0 were called on the Heat. At first glance, you may think this just proves that things do indeed even out. But remember, the Heat were behind and forced to foul in the final quarter. They were whistled 10 times in the 4th alone, but that's because they were actively fouling in the 4th.
The streak of 9 in a row was very strange. One charge/block was reversed (see below), on another charge/block one official had a block and another had a charge, Kaman and Mourning fighting for position, etc. etc. A lot of the calls could have gone either way, or been no calls. They all went against the Clips.
Impact Calls - On two seprate occasions, the refs gave Miami a chance for four point plays on 2 DIFFERENT highly questionable calls. These happened to come at crucial junctures, closing the 3rd and closing the 4th.
Episode 1 - With 2:11 left in the third, after a steal, Ross tries to foul Payton around the free throw line. The whistle doesn't blow there, but does blow later, and Payton is given the basket and the foul. This is obviously a debatable call, but on the replay, Ross certainly hit Payton harder at the line than he did thereafter. If it's not a foul at the line, it's not a foul. This is a great example of where a ref can CHOOSE to impact the game. He knew what Ross was doing - he had the choice of calling it a shooting foul, a non-shooting foul, or no foul. He choose the one that benefited the Heat. The officiating crew then tacked on another free throw by calling a technical foul on assitant coach Kim Hughes for walking onto the floor before the time out MDSr was asking for was awarded. How many times have you seen that one called? ESPN.com's box score doesn't even appear to have a mechanism for giving a T to a coach - they gave it to Corey. I'm not a conspriacy theorist, but this sure seems like "Hmm, the Heat are down 10 late in the third - I wonder how we can tighten this game up a bit." Two minutes later, they tried to tighten it up more by calling a T on Shaun for complaining after the horn, after Wade had undercut Ross on the rebound sending him crashing to the floor. I don't know what Shaun said, of course. Maybe he deserved that one.
Episode 2 - With 92 seconds left in the game and the Clippers ahead by 5 with the ball, Tim Thomas makes a horrible pass which Wade steals, and Thomas fouls him. The refs rule it a clear path foul, 2 free throws and the ball, giving the Heat a chance at a 4 point possession, in a 5 point game. Now, I don't know exactly what the rule book says about clear path fouls. I'm pretty sure there used to be something about the back court, but they may have changed that. I've seen this type of foul many, many times and it is almost never called clear path when it occurs in the back court. Certainly Ralph and Mike expressed surprise, if not shock, that it was called. But another clear case of the refs impacting the game in the Heat's favor.
The subsequent foul called against Ross was just an atrocious call - one of the worst I've seen in a long time. (a) I'm not sure he touched Wade, certainly no more than happens on every NBA possession; (b) You don't call a foul and bail out a guy who's fumbling the ball - you don't do it; (c) By all means, you don't do these things in the final minutes of a close game. Sean Wright did all three. Just a completely B.S. call.
Offensive fouls - More than any other category, it is generally agreed that charge/block is the toughest call in basketball. Most of them could be called either way. Well, not in this game - they could only go one way. Seven offensive fouls were called on the Clippers, zero on the Heat. Likewise, zero blocks were called on the Heat. I won't go into every one, but of the seven, I would say only one of them was a cut-and-dried charge (Maggette running over Walker at 7:48 of the 2nd). The other six were borderline. Twice James Posey stepped in front of guys without the ball, and then flew backwards like he was shot out of a cannon. Was there contact? Some. Was it a foul? Maybe. Was he flopping? Absolutely.
The Clippers were taking the ball aggressively to the basket. Fine, you're going to get some offensive fouls called. But not a single offensive foul called on the Heat? Not a moving pick (called once on the Clippers, could be called on almost every screen if you wanted to), no push offs fighting for position. Nada.
The worst call of the night (and the judges had a tough time deciding), is the charge drawn by Kapono against Tim Thomas at 8:29 of the 2nd. It was bad for so many reasons. David Jones is the official under the basket. He calls a charge and points at the circle. Joe Forte comes running in from HALF COURT and apparently tells Jones that Kapono's feet were out of the circle (which was true). Without so much as blinking, Jones reverses the call, as if to say, "Oh, I have a chance to call another foul against the Clippers and keep the streak alive - goody!" (This made six in a row.)
Apparently lost in the discussion was the minor detail that Kapono was not in position. Not even close. Thomas's shoulder and hip were past him before there was any contact, and that is NEVER called a charge. The idiot refs got so hung up Kapono's feet and the stupid circle, they completely forgot to call the foul properly. Like I said, it was bad for a lot of reasons. The very fact that Jones pointed to the circle in the first place was insane - Kapono's feet weren't anywhere near the circle. But it was an obvious block.
Entitlement - DWade and LeBron and Kobe are the new Michael Jordan's of the NBA. Not only are they great offensive players, but the refs give them the benefit of every doubt. The Clippers were whistled for fouling Wade 6 times, sending him to the line 10 times, which is actually BELOW his league-leading average. This game, for all it's officiating problems, was not an egregious example of preferential treatment. BUT, if you're going to crack down on traveling and carrying the ball, you need to crack down on everybody. The one time they called traveling on Wade was no different than most of his other moves to the basket. That's his move. That's what he does. And according to the rule book, it's traveling. If you have the game on TiVo, watch the spin move he makes with 1:42 left in the first half. Gorgeous, gorgeous move. I counted 4 steps - there might have been a fifth, little bunny hop in the middle, I'm not sure. That's the one they call in Athens and Japan, and Wade and LeBron look at the refs like they have two heads. It's a WALK! And if NBA refs would call it, then players would learn not to do it.
The sense of entitlement is unsightly as well. The most crucial Heat possession of the game, down 3 with 52 seconds left, Livingston plays just outstanding defense on Wade and gets a piece of his shot. Wade stares down the ref afterwards, flabbergasted that there was no whistle. But it wasn't a foul. It was good defense. Shouldn't the great players be required to play by the same rules as the rest? They don't seem to think so.
Enough about the officiating. I don't usually do this, but I found this game very strange while watching it live, and on the TiVo, indeed it was strange.
Give the Clippers credit, particularly in the second quarter. The Heat built an 8 point lead thanks in large part to 9 straight calls in their favor, but the Clips didn't quit battling. Somehow, after a nightmare of a quarter, they were ahead by 1 at halftime.
Despite playing 5 on 8.