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Are You Being Ironic?

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I have, on occasion, carped about refereeing.  Why, only a week ago, after the Detroit game, I pointed out a disparity in free throws and what I felt to be some reputation calls benefiting the Pistons.  But I think it is a concern when a team starts complaining about refereeing.  And when the argument consists almost entirely of "Look at the box score," well, that's a major red flag.

After the Clippers-Nets game last night I posted my game recap and said not one word about the officiating.  In fact, it was painfully obvious that the Clippers lost a winnable game completely on their own, giving away a five point fourth quarter lead with missed shots, missed rotations, and turnovers.  In that fourth quarter there were two unlucky breaks (what should have been a Cat Mobley steal and a Clipper fastbreak turned into a Bostjan Nachbar dunk and a six point Nets lead, and an inadvertent Vince Carter elbow that sidelined QRoss for the rest of the game with a concussion), but aside from those plays, you could not blame anyone (not the officials, not the fates, not even global warming) other than the Clippers themselves.

So imagine my surprise when I opened this morning's papers to find that the Clippers 'wuz robbed.'  

After the game, MDsr went on a tirade dripping in sarcasm regarding the officiating:  

"[Elton Brand] no longer can get to the free-throw line.  Obviously he must not have any kind of game, because every other star in this league gets to the free throw line, but since he can't get there anymore maybe he's lost his game.  I don't know. As many times as he touches the ball, he's got to get to the free-throw line more for us.  He has to be that assertive guy.  Maybe he has just lost his game"

"Elton obviously doesn't get fouled when he goes to the rim.  His contention is that he gets fouled, but I have to believe the referees. That's all I have to go on.  I have to believe the referees that he's not getting pushed down low, that people aren't coming over his back, that he's not getting fouled and they're all good plays.  We're going to have to work with him in the off-season."

Strong words.  Enough to earn the coach a fine from David Stern and Stu Jackson no doubt, so stay tuned on that.  Several team members harped on the officiating also, and noted that former Clipper / journeyman Mikki Moore went to the line 13 times to Brand's 2.  But here's the thing.  If you just looked at the box score, 13 free throws for Mikki Moore versus 2 for Elton Brand might seem strange.  But I watched the game, and basically Mikki Moore went to the line 13 times because he was fouled 7 times, while Elton Brand went to the line twice because he was fouled once.

That was certainly my impression, and just to make sure I wasn't missing something, I went back and re-watched the fourth quarter on the TiVo.  Now maybe all of the nonsense occurred earlier in the game and I wasn't paying much attention, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Clippers had a 5 point lead with 8 minutes to go, so unless MDsr is arguing that he should have had an insurmountable lead in the fourth, the game was still there at that point.  Indeed, Moore went to the line 7 times in the fourth quarter.  Once he was grabbed by Sam Cassell on a mismatch after a switch, and he made the bucket and got one free throw.  The next two came when he was grabbed with both arms by Maggette after he was late on the rotation after a Kidd pick-and-roll.  Numbers 4 and 5 followed an offensive rebound after Brand left him to block a shot and nobody rotated and numbers 6 and 7 were a carbon copy of 4 and 5.  No conspiracy.  No vendetta.  Pick-and-roll basketball with Jason Kidd (who happens to be pretty good at finding the open man) and penetration by Kidd and Carter put Moore in position under the basket with the ball, and the Clippers decided to foul rather than let their former teammate dunk on them.  

Meanwhile, on the other end, Elton Brand went to the line for two shots when he was pushed by Moore.  In the rest of the quarter, there wasn't anything that was even close to being a foul committed on EB.  Not close - not by any stretch of the imagination.  Elton shot a combination of face up jumpers and fallaways in the period, and frankly, you don't get a lot of trips to the line doing that.  Maggette was taking the ball in, and was rewarded with four free throws in the period (and frankly, neither of those was a clear cut foul).  So at least in the fourth quarter, the implication was pretty clear - if you want to go to the free throw line, you need to take the ball to the basket.  But, hey, guess what?  We already knew that.

In the entirety of the fourth quarter (and bear in mind the Clippers led 77-72 and 78-74), when I put on my most red-white-and-blue-Clipper-colored glasses, I could maybe manage to whine about four calls - Brand's block on Jefferson was clean at 7:37; Kaman might have been pushed when he beat Moore at 6:31 (he should have made the basket anyway); you could always call a foul on a play like the strip Kidd made on Corey at 1:44; and Wright appeared to nick Cat's arm on his three with 10 seconds left (that call would have given the Clippers some hope, but the game was essentially already lost).  That's it.  Four calls, and only one of them that I could even get worked up about.  And none of them would have resulted in more free throws for Elton Brand, which is the thing MDsr is going nuts about.

Like I said, maybe the other three quarters I missed something, but my impression was that the officials were fine, and re-watching the fourth quarter re-affirmed that impression.  And like I said, if you have a 5 point lead in the fourth, you really need to worry about winning the game right then, and not about the calls from an hour earlier.

It was instead a series of little things that let this game slip away, like:  

  • The 5 points in 10 seconds scored by Marcus Williams that resulted from a blown Chris Kaman offensive rebound followed by a horrible and inexplicable Kaman inbound pass that was stolen by Jason Kidd.
  • The fact that the Clippers didn't get a single SHOT during the last 90 seconds of the first half while New Jersey got 4 shots and 2 free throws aided by three Maggette turnovers and an offensive rebound.
  • And the muffed steal by Cat that went back to Kidd and ended up as a Nachbar dunk and an 88-82 lead, capping a 14-4 Nets run.  In fact, that run was the game.  During the run, the Clippers missed five wide open shots.  Make the shots, and change the result.

Notice also how a Jason Kidd steal figures prominently in each of these sequences.  He was credited with 6 in the game, and in addition to the three above, he also stripped Corey in the final two minutes while the Clippers still had a chance.  That's four steals that led directly to 8 points, indirectly to 1 more point, and also took key scoring opportunities away from the Clippers.  It's not a stretch to say that Jason Kidd's thefts were the difference in this game.  But it is a stretch to blame the refs.

One final thought.  I'm a big fan of the irony.  Love it, love it, love it.  I miss Cheers because they did the irony really well.  Norm: "I sit here on this bar stool night after night wondering why she lost interest in me."  Sam:  "Not many people know it, but I'm a pretty famous guy."  Good stuff.  

MDsr needs to work on his irony.  When he says of EB, "As many times as he touches the ball, he's got to get to the free-throw line more for us.  He has to be that assertive guy.  Maybe he has just lost his game" I'm pretty sure he's being ironic, because I know the context and I know he wouldn't say that about Elton.  But I watched the game.  And frankly, Elton DOES need to be that assertive guy and he DOES need to get to the line more.  See that's the thing about irony - it doesn't work if it's not clear you're being ironic.

Oh my gosh! I just realized! That's the irony. He thinks he's being ironic, but what he's saying is actually true. How ironic!