Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers and Tony Allen #9 of the Memphis Grizzliesfight for a loose ball in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers won 101-97 in overtime to take a three games to one lead in the series. The Grizzlies won 90-88 to tie the series at three games each. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Complaining about the referees is a dangerous game. If you're a player or a coach, not only do you risk getting fined, you're also allowing yourself to be distracted from what is important. Unless you think that you can influence future calls positively (and let's face it, you don't know that, and it's almost as likely that you could influence them negatively as the officials might consciously or unconsciously punish you for whining) then there's nothing to be gained. Calls in the past are calls in the past, they aren't going to be changed, and if you've got work to do, as the Clippers do preparing for Game 7, then spending time worrying about missed calls is beyond counter-productive. Bad calls happen, they are a part of the game, they happen to both teams, move on and win the next game.
For a team-centric site like Clips Nation, discussing bad calls is inevitable, but still problematic. Every fan base in every sport ever believes that the refs are trying to screw them. They can't all be right, of course. But to discuss the issue within the community, with other members of your tribe so to speak, is only natural. It's expected, it's needed, it's cathartic, it's inevitable.
But consider it from my perspective for a moment. If Steve Perrin, aspiring NBA journalist, wants more opportunities of the SBNation NBA columnist variety, then he can't be perceived as a rabid fanatic of the "Clipperz Rule! Refs you suck!" variety. Now, I've never thought of myself as that guy, but I have to be careful. My twitter handle of @ClipperSteve is probably already becoming an issue for me. Seven years ago when I got the gmail address, or four years ago when I joined Twitter, the handle made perfect sense. It's easy to remember, and it defines me -- it's a decent brand. Now I'm afraid that it defines me -- in a way I don't necessarily want to be defined -- and when I write a piece like the Griffin Flopper Narrative I open myself up for a ton of criticism and my objectivity is justifiably called into question. Then again, it's probably best to make sure your biases are known. Chris Sheridan is clearly a Knicks fan though he doesn't disclose it. Henry Abbott is a Blazers fan and tries to point that out. But all of that's a different issue, one for me to deal with.
A blog is not a newspaper. A blogger is allowed to have an opinion, and is not ashamed of his or her opinion. Clips Nation exists for Clipper fans. The goal is to be objective and realistic about the Clippers, not to simply be cheerleaders, but there's no point pretending that this is not a place for Clippers fans, because it is, or that I have no bias because I do. And as such, complaining about the refs is going to be a part of it. And that's great.
But it needs to stay grounded, it needs to stay realistic, and at some point we need to move on. And this part is important -- remember that bad calls happen both ways. We have a confirmation bias that tells us that the Clippers get more bad calls than any other team, and way more in this series. Guess what? Grizzlies fans have the same confirmation bias for their team. Furthermore, bad calls rarely decide basketball games, and they never decide them by themselves. With the exception of the Reggie Evans "High Five" Technical, all of the worst calls from a Clippers perspective in Game 6 either had no impact, or would have had no impact had the Clippers simply done their jobs correctly.
So it's a balance to strike.
Having said all of that, here's my take on some of the worst calls from Game 6, and there were lots to choose from. Most of these are from the fourth quarter, when the stakes are higher, but there are a few from earlier that can't be ignored, or serve to illustrate an inconsistency. Let's start with a couple of calls that favored the Clippers.
Bad Calls Against the Grizzlies
Q1 5:24 - Reggie Evans flops -
The amazing thing about this call, is that it hurt the Clippers more than it hurt the Grizzlies. Let me explain. The Clippers had the ball, they weren't in the bonus, the result of the call was side out of bounds. It helps them get into the bonus, sure, but the fifth and sixth fouls of the quarter called against the Grizzlies happened to both be shooting fouls, so this call did not earn the Clippers any more fouls in the game. It did saddle Tony Allen with a second personal foul at the time, and he did leave the game at that point, but he was due for a rest anyway. Two fouls in more than 18 minutes of play is not really foul trouble, and Allen finished the game with three fouls in 30 minutes played, a series high, so you can't argue that this play caused any foul troubles for Allen and the Grizzlies.
What it did do was give a national TV audience and Jeff Van Gundy another reason to become righteously indignant about Flop City.
Why NBA refs fall for obvious flops is the real question, but you have to bear some things in mind. Obvious flops aren't nearly so obvious in real time as they are on the replay. Still, there are many where you feel like the refs should be able to make the call in real time -- I mean, I knew this was a flop long before I saw the replay. But here's where proximity may not favor the refs. How many times have you said "How could he have missed that? He's standing right there! I saw that from section 318!" Well, seeing a toe on the three point line might be easier from up close, but seeing a 275 pound man fly backwards and determining that the contact didn't really cause it is probably easier from a broader perspective. A well-timed flop (and Reggie's pretty good at selling these things) can probably fool a referee standing 15 feet away more easily than it fools us in the stands or watching on TV. In this case, the big picture helps.
At any rate, a terrible call that amounted to nothing in the game.
With the Clippers down 5 and in desperate need of a three, Caron Butler gets a wide open look behind the arc. How did he get so open? Because Kenyon Martin set a "screen" on Rudy Gay that involved grabbing Gay's arm and holding on tight. It's hard to figure how the refs missed this one, and it would have been HUGE -- had Butler made the shot. He missed, the Grizzlies rebounded, no impact on the game. If you want to really nitpick, it benefited the Clippers a little as they were able to foul Zach Randolph on the rebound, a 66% foul shooter, as opposed to Gay who shoots 79%.
Q3 4:43 - Blake Griffin kicked ball no call -
This was a great play by Blake Griffin, a highlight reel play, a momentum shifting play. It was also illegal, but just a little. Griffin overplays the entry pass to Gasol and knocks the ball away, and then dives after the loose ball. His sliding body starts moving past the ball, and as he's sliding his foot rolls over the ball, and helps drag the ball back within reach of his hands. Was it intentional? Probably, but you could argue that it wasn't I suppose. The refs let it go, from the floor Griffin kicked the ball ahead to DeAndre Jordan for a breakaway slam dunk and the Clippers were within two points with the crowd going nuts. Van Gundy on ESPN said something along the lines of "you reward the hustling player for making the play by not calling the kick" and he's right, that's the exciting play, the play the TV audience wants, the play the home crowd wants. But imagine if they refs had made the perfectly justifiable call of a violation on that play.
Bad Calls Against the Clippers
Now we'll shift to the other side of the ball. I saw more of these, maybe because there were more, and maybe because that's how my filters work. I'm going to start with a couple of compare and contrast.
Two different clear path situations -
A couple of minutes into the game, at 9:41 of the first quarter, Randy Foye makes a steal and starts heading towards an easy layup. Mike Conley reaches out and grabs Foye and Marc Davis whistles a foul. The Clippers ask for a clear path foul, Davis is having none of it, and the Clippers inbound and play resumes.
Early in the third quarter, with 8:41 on the clock, a loose ball on the Clippers end winds up with Conley and the action heads the other way. Conley gets a step on Caron Butler, a foul is whistled, the refs huddle to discuss it, and decide to watch the replay to determine if it was a clear path foul. They decide, yes, it was, Conley makes one of his two free throws and Memphis gets the ball.
The clear path rule and it's enforcement is one of my least favorite rules in the NBA -- flagrant fouls and defensive three seconds are on the list as well. Here's the real question: why would you go to the replay on the Butler foul, but not on the Conley foul? If they had reviewed the first one, they would have seen that it was every bit as much a clear path foul as the second one. They were both close, with the player with the ball moving from behind the defender to ahead of the defender just before the foul was called. But I've watched them both closely, and I can see no justification for calling one and not the other. They meet the letter of the law: both occurred on plays originating in the backcourt, both occurred between the top of the circle on the defensive end and the basket, both involved a clear path, and there was no other defender behind the play. Why is Marc Davis so certain that it wasn't a clear path foul in the first quarter? Why does one get reviewed and not the other? There's no good answer for those questions.
But even more maddening than the letter of the law in this case is the spirit of the law. Of the two plays, Foye's "path" is much clearer -- he's heading one direction, Conley's heading the other direction, Foye is going to get an uncontested layup if no foul is called. Conley knows this and reaches out and grabs him intentionally, precisely the type of play the NBA created the rule to address. When Butler fouled Conley, they were both running to the basket, and had been for awhile. Butler's foul is hardly intentional -- Conley gets a step on him and veers into his path creating contact. If it had been Butler's intent to foul intentionally to stop the fast break, he could have done so a second or so earlier when it would not have been a clear path foul, because he and Chris Paul were both ahead of the ball. He didn't foul then, because he wasn't fouling intentionally, because he thought he had a legitimate chance to stop Conley. By the letter of the law, it was a clear path foul (just barely, and depending on when you feel the foul occurred), but this was not the situation for which the rule was created.
These two plays together cost the Clippers at least a point. If neither is called, you take Conley's free throw off the board. If both are called, Foye, an 86% foul shooter, gets two free throws.
Two different fourth quarter shot clock violations -
With 7:30 left in the game and the Clippers leading by six, having only recently completely a 10-0 run to take an 8 point lead, the Clippers have their first bad possession in a while, and Mo Williams is trapped with the shot clock winding down and no good options. Mo tries to get off a shot against 7'2" Hamed Haddadi, the shot is blocked, and the shot clock buzzer sounds -- but the refs don't blow the whistle and allow the play to continue. Haddadi grabs the rebound, Allen runs past all the Clippers who have stopped playing when they heard the buzzer, and Eric Bledsoe has to foul Allen to prevent the easy layup. The Grizzlies end up getting the inverted three point play when Haddadi tips in Allen's second free throw.
With five minutes left, Zach Randolph has the ball behind the three point line tightly guarded with the shot clock winding down. The score is now tied at 80 apiece after the Grizzlies have come back, and the Clippers are now struggling to score in the half court offense, scoring just one basket in the last three minutes. Randolph forces a long three that hits high off the glass and doesn't draw iron, the long rebound lands in Eric Bledsoe's hands, and he's off to the races in transition -- at which point Dan Crawford blows his whistles and pats his head, shot clock violation, Clippers ball. No buzzer had sounded.
Watching the replay, there's a reason that the buzzer sounded on the first play and not on the second. Haddadi touches the rebound right as the shot clock shows 0.0 seconds. Now, I wish there was an advantage rule in basketball, and that this type of play was never ruled a shot clock violation, but there isn't an advantage rule. Most of the time it's ruled a violation, but it's a judgment call, and this time it wasn't.
On the second play, the ball is in Bledsoe's hands with 0.7 seconds on the shot clock. The shot clock operator got the play right -- why couldn't Crawford? These calls can be pretty tough, with fractions of seconds making the difference. Know what? Seven-tenths is a fraction, but it's a pretty damn big one. If we're rounding up, it ain't a fraction. Easy, easy call, no reason to blow the whistle.
Now, these calls should in theory be pretty low impact. In either case, the team that is supposed to get the ball is going to get the ball, there are no extra possessions involved. What happened was that the calls increased the Grizzlies' chances of scoring against a Clippers defense that stupidly stopped playing for a moment in anticipation of a call and decreased the Clippers' chances of scoring against a fully set Memphis defense after the whistle.
So yeah, it's frustrating, particularly when the two calls are juxtaposed with each other.
Marc Davis' greatest hits -
The next three calls all involve one referee who somehow seemed to insert himself into the proceedings time and again, invariably intervening on behalf of the Grizzlies. We've already seen him be duped by Reggie Evans and refuse to consider a clear path when Conley fouled Foye. In these three, he takes a much more active role, really stepping into the spotlight.
With 1:24 left in the first half, Evans takes a pass from Griffin on a fast break and is fouled. Griffin and Evans exchange a high five -- and Marc Davis blows his whistle, emphatically points on Evans, and calls a technical foul. It was ... bizarre.
Now, Davis did not rule that this was taunting or excessive celebration for a high five -- that's what it seems like, but there's no way that's what he did. He obviously THOUGHT he saw Evans do something else -- but replays show that there was nothing else happening when Davis blew the whistles. The replay from the baseline is absolutely classic -- Evans and Griffin high fiving in slow motion, Davis gets this indignant look on his face and blows the whistle and points at Evans, and Evans gets the "who me?" look, only this time it's sincere. Like I said, bizarre. Gay hit the technical free throw, so it definitely cost the Clippers a point. Glad the final score wasn't too close. Oh, wait.
In the fourth quarter, with 4:20 remaining, Allen knocks the ball away from Chris Paul and dives on the floor to get it. But Allen has nowhere to go, and Paul quickly pounces on him and ties him up. Baseline referee Jason Phillips blows his whistle and signals a jump ball. But wait -- our pal Davis emphatically whistles that, no, it's not a jump ball, the Grizzlies bench had asked for a time out, which he grants.
Now, this is Davis' call. He's the one closest to the bench, Lionel Hollins is allowed to call a time out from the bench, and only Davis would know when he did that. But the Grizzlies have to clearly have possession when the time out is requested, and watching the play again, that sure does not seem to be the case. For one thing, while Davis is the only official who is positioned to hear Hollins, that also makes him the least well-positioned to see what is happening with the play, with Paul's body obscuring his view of the ball. We can't know for sure when Hollins asks for the time out -- but, by the time he moves his head toward Davis, and when Davis blows his whistle, Paul is all over Allen, and it's far from clear that Allen has exclusive possession of the ball. Given that Phillips signaled the jump ball at the same time, it seems reasonable to conclude that Phillips didn't think Allen had exclusive possession when Hollins asked for the time out, but that's an inference on my part. At any rate, it was a ballsy call by Davis. He can't see the ball, which is an important element of the call he's making, yet he feels compelled to override the other official, to say, "I got this guys, this is the right call, for sure." Gutsy. The impact of this call was minimal, as Tony Allen probably would have won an ensuing jump ball with Paul, and the Grizzlies turned the ball over on their subsequent possession anyway.
In the final thirty seconds of the game, with the Clippers down four and desperate for a turnover, the defense is scrambling everywhere. The refs seem to be letting them play -- Paul goes for the steal on a pass to Randolph, doesn't get there in time, hits Randolph's arm, no foul is called. The ball ends up with Allen, with Evans and Griffin slapping and grabbing at the ball, and still no whistle. Then Allen loses his balance trying to get away from the pressure, and stumbles backwards, an obvious traveling violation, and the bench begins to celebrate. But never fear, Memphis fans, it's Marc Davis time. Davis blows his whistle and calls ... a foul on Griffin. Now, there were fouls on that play -- not big wins, but fouls nonetheless -- but not when the whistle blew. Davis, as he had done several times before, bailed the Grizzlies out. Again the impact was low, because Allen missed both free throws -- at which point Randy Foye flew in for the rebound and landed on the end line, a call Crawford got absolutely correct.
4Q 0:52 - Chris Paul "fouls" Tony Allen -
This one was big. Allen once again got behind the Clippers defense, and Paul chased him down and tried to block his layup attempt. Phillips called Paul for the foul, at which point Paul flipped out a bit (he was lucky he didn't get a technical foul there, frankly). The replay showed that Paul was correct to flip out -- his block was about as clean as that type of block can be. He had all ball on top, that's for sure. Van Gundy and Breen agreed with each other that it was clean. So, it was a bad call, and it cost the Clippers two points, as the replay also showed that the ball went off of Allen out of bounds after the block.
It was my no means an easy call. It is not surprising that a foul was called on the play -- Paul was in a terrible position to make a play on the ball, there was less than a minute left, Phillips probably expected that Paul would intentionally foul Allen, he made an anticipation call because he expected a foul.
And why were the Clippers in this position? This played occurred after a MADE FREE THROW with less than a minute remaining and the Clippers trailing by 4. How does Tony Allen get behind the defense in that situation? The answer is that the injured Paul was unable to defend Conley in Game 6, and was for some reason obsessed with making sure Foye had him. On this play and several others, you can see Paul telling Foye to get on Conley before worrying about where Allen is. Paul was the foul shooter -- certainly in a good enough position to get back on defense and in contact with his man after a made free throw. But as he's telling Foye what to do, Allen is running up court. It was one of many, many, many egregious errors the Clippers made in transition defense in Game 6. Was it a bad call? With the benefit of slow motion replays, sure. But it was not a particularly surprising call, and Paul has only himself to blame for being in a bad spot to begin with.
What I find interesting about this call is that it goes against every preconception about bad reffing in the NBA. The superstar call? Well, Allen is a nice enough player, but Paul is a superstar, yet the call went against him. The home cooking call? Not this time, as the call more or less sealed the fate of the home team. An NBA agenda? Well, unless you think the NBA has some reason to have a team from Memphis (the 41st largest metropolitan statistical area in the U.S.) in the playoffs instead of a team from Los Angeles (the 2nd largest), this was no conspiracy. Just another bad call.
In a series that has been full of them.