Let's start with the obvious. That was an easy call, and Steve Javie and company blew it. Here's what I don't get - refs stop the game ALL THE TIME to watch a replay and put time back on the clock. Now, if the difference between 4.8 seconds and 5.1 seconds is worth ambling over to the sideline, then isn't the difference between 2 free throws and 3 free throws IN A THREE POINT GAME worth that trip as well? Absolutely ludicrous. I also enjoyed the farcical little meeting they had. Must have gone something like this:
Javie: I didn't see where his foot was... did you, Tony?
Brown: I didn't see it. Did you see it Monte?
McCutchen: What? I'm sorry, what was the question? I wasn't really listening.
Javie: Screw it. It's after midnight on the east coast. The NBA doesn't pay me extra to work OT games. I'm calling it a 2.
Brown: That's cool.
Obviously none of them saw it. Given the fact that Cat was a good foot behind the line, they could not have seen it. Which seems odd, considering that it was kind of important and they're right there. Oh, and what's that other thing? Oh yeah, it's there effing JOB! I saw it from section 304.
But if you didn't see it, why not go to the video? Or, I dunno, shoot a quick sideways glance over to Tom Tolbert - he was holding up three fingers for them (another thing I saw from 304).
The ESPN guys, looking in amazement at the replay and seeing that it wasn't even close, surmised that perhaps Javie was calling for two shots because Cat wasn't in the act of shooting. It's always nice when announcers try to make excuses for the incompetence of officials, but that would be an even worse call. Clippers inbouding with 4.1, whistle blows with 2.5, Mobley is clearly doing SOMETHING - did they think he was passing? Actually I'm convinced that they called a 2 point shooting foul - MDsr said as much in his press conference after the game, and Javie was 'explaining' the call to him during Cat's first free throw, so that must be what he called.
Regardless of why he awarded only two shots, the call was criminally bad - Cat was obviously shooting, and he was obviously behind the line.
Steve Javie is a monumental jerk. The CHP officer of the NBA. Short fuse. Likes to abuse his authority. I'm surprised he doesn't work the games wearing mirrored sun glasses. Just a surly cuss. Brown and McCutchen would be unlikely to contradict him, even if they did get a better look, for fear of being chased (it's unusual for one ref to eject another ref, but Javie would be the man to do it). I figured he got away with it because he was competent. Now, who knows?
And for the Jeff Van Gundy's of the world, saying the point is moot because Cat missed the first free throw, spare me. The point is indeed moot, because bad calls happen and we can't change the call. But the fact that Cat missed a free throw knowing full well he'd just been screwed and he should be shooting to tie the game but instead he's going through a basically meaningless exercise, has no bearing on what would have happened if they'd made the correct call.
OK, enough about that. Bad calls happen.
Apparently, bad quarters happen as well. The Clippers outscored the Rockets 29-21 in the first quarter, and 26-22 in the fourth - 26-18 when it counted, with the Rockets tacking on 4 free throws at the end. That 16 point advantage was lost in 6:30 at the end of the third quarter, when the Rockets went on an 18-2 spree. Forget Javie's ridiculous call. Forget Chris Kaman's complete and total uselessness. Forget Maggette's nightmare from the field. The Rockets still needed every bit of that 18-2 run to win this game.
The feeling of deja vu was certainly a little eerie. Clippers lead with under a minute to go. McGrady creates off the pick and roll and finds a shooter in the same corner for a game-deciding three - two weeks ago it was Luther Head, last night it was Shane Battier. My buddy Scott was watching the game with me, and he thought Thomas made a mistake helping off Battier in that situation - with a two point lead, he says don't give up the three. I disagree. Thomas had to help; you can't just give McGrady a layup in the final minute. What's interesting is that the Rockets seemed to cross up the Clippers on the play. When Yao came up to set the pick, both Ross and Brand were hedging to their left, thinking TMac was going to drive right. When Yao went to the other side, Brand wasn't there to show on the pick, and Ross was completely hung up on Yao (he's very big, in case you hadn't noticed). Credit JVG with making the right call. The Clippers were completely convinced he was going right. What's frustrating is that Elton had successfully switched onto TMac a couple of times, including the possession directly prior where he got the blocked shot. But it's basically impossible to stop the pick and roll if the screener's man doesn't show.
So JVG called the right play coming out of the timeout, Houston got the shot they wanted, and Battier drained it. (Houston was 4-16 overall from three on the night - you can look at this two ways. Either they were due, or the Clippers played it right since they were cold from out there.)
The Clippers then called timeout, and it was their turn to set up a play to take the lead. Moments before, they came out of a timeout with a nice back screen for Brand that got him a wide open look. Once again, they ran their set to perfection, this time with Brand setting an off ball screen for Maggette on the curl. Corey got right down the lane - but missed the layup. Sometimes the ball doesn't go in the hoop.
The Clippers got one more possession down one with about 25 seconds left in the game. MDsr eschewed the timeout, preferring to save his final 20 to advance the ball (probably the right decision). Only problem is, the Clippers looked lost as they often do in critical situations. Hart dribbled up top, and after a couple of aborted high screens from Brand, he passed to Thomas on the wing who launched a contested three. The Clippers spacing was atrocious - Maggette was standing about 3 feet from Thomas when he shot, such that if Thomas' man hadn't contested the shot, Maggette's man could have gotten there just as easily. The fiasco didn't end there - Cat Mobley stood there and watched as Yao grabbed the rebound with 6 seconds left. By the time Corey grabbed Skip-to-my-Lou, 2 precious seconds had ticked away.
It was probably too much to ask for a five game winning streak in March after such a lackluster season. But when Houston's not hitting their threes, they are a beatable team (when they are hitting their threes, I'm not so sure anyone can beat them - you can't double Yao AND stop McGrady AND guard the three point line). Two points in the final 6:30 of the third was a little too much to overcome. But it would have been nice if the refs hadn't blown an obvious call as well.