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Clippers are blowing late game situations, but so are the officials

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After last night's tough loss at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers are starting to feel the pressure of not being able to close out games late. However, is it also fair to blame referees for the team's failures?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

There are probably a slew of headlines running rampant out there in cyberspace that hint at the Los Angeles Clippers choking away another game after last night’s gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. In all reality, that’s an easy dig to take at the team. They’re 14-4 when leading after three quarters this season, however it’s been the losses that are incredibly tough to talk about – losses to the Golden State Warriors (twice), San Antonio Spurs, and, now, Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, the team struggles to close out games against the elite of the elite. Yet, maybe there is also another reason they have issues – referees are simply blowing it, as well.

Thanks to the official website, we can see just how well officials do at calling (or not calling) fouls/infractions late in close games. The NBA releases their Last Two Minute Report every morning. The report is for all games within five points at the two minute mark of regulation. In essence, the closest of the close games are pulled out of the woodwork for reexamination. What have the reports shown? Well, for starters, the Los Angeles Clippers have been the disadvantaged team a whopping 13 times already this season. They’ve been the advantaged team just twice. There have been 15 games played by the Clippers that have shown up on that report, and there’s been 13 mistakes against them. That seems pretty high just based on the eye test alone. When you dig deeper, it’s even more frustrating.

There have been 9 games played by the Golden State Warriors that have shown up in the report archives. In those games, the Warriors have been found to be the disadvantaged team just 4 times while also being the advantaged team 4 times. In essence, a wash. To even be found disadvantaged only 4 times in 9 games is pretty remarkable. So, you have to credit the officials for at least being right a lot of the time there. The Oklahoma City Thunder have shown up 13 times in the Last Two Minute Report. They themselves have been the disadvantaged team 8 times already this season, but they’ve been the advantaged team a crazy 13 times – and 3 of those times came last night alone.

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Clippers rattle the cages of referees throughout the course of games by constantly getting on them about calls they think the referees are incorrectly making, or not making, and it could make referees start to tip games away from the Clippers rather than towards. However, the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder are both just as guilty as the Clippers are in continually yapping and barking at officiating crews. If it’s affecting one team, why is not affecting the others? It does seem a tad ridiculous for one of those teams to be disadvantaged to a far greater degree than the others. For anyone wondering about the San Antonio Spurs, they’ve shown up on the Last Two Minute Report for 8 games this season. They’ve been the disadvantaged party 5 times, and the Spurs have been the advantaged team 3 times.

it’s up to this team to figure out how to overcome the things that are haunting them.

This isn’t to exonerate the Clippers from how they’ve played down the stretch of a lot of these games. However, a lot of these mistakes have proven to come at the absolute worst time in games that ultimately could have swung the result. For instance, of the three missed calls last night, one of them came with just over a minute to go when J.J. Redick came around a screen to shoot a three-pointer. Dion Waiters, according to the report, "grabs and pulls Redick’s jersey slightly" while Redick was going around the screen and into his shooting motion. The foul, if deemed a shooting foul, would have resulted in three free throws for Redick, which would have given him a chance to increase the lead all the way up to 5 with roughly 60 seconds to go in the game.

The second mistake came on Chris Paul’s steal and layup to give the Clippers the lead with 10.9 seconds to go. The report indicates that Russell Westbrook "undercuts Paul and makes contact with his left leg that affects his movement to the basket on the made layup attempt." What that means is that Paul should have been at the free throw line for one shot, and a chance to push the lead up to 2 points. The third and final mistake came on Kevin Durant’s game-winning jumper. Serge Ibaka sets a screen on Luc Mbah a Moute, and "extends his arms as he sets the screen on Mbah a Moute without giving him room to avoid the contact." Had that been called, it’s an offensive foul and the Clippers get the ball back with a chance to inbound with the lead. Those mistakes aren’t why the Clippers lost the game itself, but those calls certainly hindered their ability to actually win.

You could still go further back and find instances of wrongdoing that might have affected the end result. November 19 against the Golden State Warriors: with 32.2 to go in a game that the Warriors lead by 5 points, Paul Pierce drives to the basket. According to the report, Harrison Barnes "makes contact with Pierce’s body that affects his shot attempt." Had it been called, Pierce would have been at the line with a chance to cut the deficit down to just 3 points with 32.2 to play. The Clippers still would have had a chance to tie, if they had gotten a stop after Pierce’s free throws – that’s also if he makes both.

Another mistake that might have cost the Clippers a win came on November 7 against the Houston Rockets, when Dwight Howard clearly goaltended a game-tying basket by Blake Griffin with 18.8 seconds to go. However, referees didn’t call it goaltending on the floor, and thus they could not review the footage. Had the proper call been made, the Clippers and Rockets would have been tied at 107 with 18.8 seconds to play. The Rockets would have had the ball, obviously going for a final shot, and we have no idea whether or not that game goes to overtime. Still, it’s a huge blown call at a pivotal moment in the game.

Maybe the reason they feel slighted by officials is because they are, in fact, being slighted by them right now.

Lastly, November 4 against the Golden State Warriors. With 55.1 seconds to go, Andre Iguodala "makes contact with [DeAndre Jordan]’s wrist that affects his ability to secure the rebound." Both teams were in the bonus at the time. The ball went out of bounds, Golden State was awarded possession after a review, and the Clippers were not given two free throws like they should have been. It is true that Jordan is a poor free throw shooter, but he still should have been given the opportunity at the line. The report says as such. While the odds of Jordan making one free throw, let alone both, are pretty low, the mistake was still made.

None of this is to stay that there is a massive conspiracy against the Clippers to disadvantage them when it comes to 50-50 calls late in games. However, a large portion of the Clippers’ bad luck late in games could be attributed to not only player or coach error from themselves, but also official error by the three guys on the court that are paid to make the correct call. When there have been 15 mistakes in 15 games that have shown up on the report, and 13 of those 15 mistakes (86.7 percent) put you at a disadvantage, you clearly see where the frustration on behalf of the team comes from. Maybe the reason they feel slighted by officials is because they are, in fact, being slighted by them right now.

It would take a deep psychological evaluation of officials and referee crews to fully understand if the constant complaining by the Clippers has a direct correlation to the lack of calls the team gets late in games. Still, it is pretty frustrating to see a team constantly get the short end of the stick in crucial moments while other teams across the league are not as severely hampered. It could just be random chance, and it’s hard to argue that it’s anything but random chance at this point, yet it could still be a growing concern within the team that it doesn’t matter what they do late in games if officials just don’t give them the calls they’re giving other teams.

As of this second, the team is 16-13. On top of that, they’re riding their second three-game losing streak of the season. In Doc Rivers’ first two seasons, the team had just one regular season losing streak of at least three games. Introspection is probably needed for them to get out of this rut that they’re presently in. In the end, it shouldn’t matter what the officials do late in games to hamper your team. You should still be able to gut out wins against even the toughest competition if you truly are at the top of your game. However, even one mistake by an officiating crew at an important moment can certainly swing the balance of the scales away from you, and maybe those errors by referees are compounding the issue that’s already at hand – the Clippers are not a good basketball team, but they’re even worse late in games. Mistakes by referees or not, it’s up to this team to figure out how to overcome the things that are haunting them.