The calls. Those horrible, terrible, no good, very bad calls.
The calls in the Los Angeles Clippers' 111-107 Game 5 loss to the San Antonio Spurs were bad. The officiating crew was not sharp -- not sharp at all. Go back through my twitter feed and look at the number of times I complained about late whistles. Even when officials get a call right, a late whistle is annoying -- it tells you the refs aren't confident, that they're thinking about something. What are they thinking about? Either it's a foul or not, and they shouldn't need to think -- unless they're thinking about the game situation and which team might benefit, but I'm sure they'd never do that.
The offensive goal tending call against DeAndre Jordan was the correct call; or was it? Is there really more evidence that DJ touched the ball than there was that Reggie Jackson touched the ball in a different Game 5? We probably shouldn't go there, but think about this. Josh Tivens is the first referee to blow his whistle -- and he does so after Tim Duncan reacts. Tivens is precisely behind Jordan on the play -- it would be literally impossible for him to see whether Jordan touched the ball or not, that is assuming he cannot see through Jordan's hand. So on what, exactly, is he basing that call?
Now, the officials can go to the monitor in the final two minutes, and yes, I believe that Jordan touched the ball. But the standard in the NBA is that the play stands unless there's enough video evidence to overturn it, so it matters what the original call was. By ruling it a goaltend, the basket is disallowed unless the evidence shows he clearly did not touch the ball. If the officials rule it a basket on the court and THEN ask for a review as they are allowed to do, the video evidence would have to show conclusively that Jordan DID touch the ball in order to change the call. And again, I have no clue how Tivens could have called that from his angle.
If the Jordan offensive goaltend was almost certainly the correct call, the one on Matt Barnes was certainly not correct. Lucky us, the one that could be reviewed was the one that went against the Clippers. (Why is that, by the way? The NBA's unnecessarily circumspect list of reviewable situations is something I've railed against for years. If you can check whether a three point shooter has his toe on the line and add or subtract points accordingly, why can't you do the same thing for offensive goal tending? The game restarts by giving the ball to the opposition whether it's a basket or a violation. It changes NOTHING to make sure that call is correct, and the overhead camera is the only sure what to make that call. Stupid. They could also eliminate this controversy by adopting the FIBA rule and allowing players to touch the ball after it has hit the rim.)
After watching the Barnes play on TV, it was pretty close -- but here's the thing. If you're Josh "No Tip ins" Tivins, don't you have to be pretty certain to make that call? And how certain can you be if you're, you know, wrong? It's one thing to allow a basket that should have been waved off because you just couldn't see. To wave off a basket based on being completely wrong? That's going out of your way to make a mistake. Like the Griffin travel, the call just so happened to come at a crucial time, in the midsts of a 12-1 Spurs run. Barnes' tip could have stemmed the tide and brought some momentum back to the Clippers -- momentum that stayed with the Spurs on Tivins whistle.
The Blake Griffin travel was to me the biggest mystery during the game; the replays they showed in the arena were so clearly not traveling, and there is so much unpunished traveling that in fact occurs in NBA games, that it seemed incomprehensible to make that call. After watching the game on the DVR, I now know exactly what Bill Kennedy was calling. He whistled Griffin for traveling for taking an extra step before he started his dribble -- not for traveling after he picked up his dribble as he went to the basket. And Kennedy is correct -- Griffin did travel there. Now, there are at least 30 such travels in every NBA game and I literally don't remember the last time I saw it called, so it is still a strange call. In fact, I've been assuming that NBA refs have been instructed to ignore footwork prior to the start of a dribble unless it reaches something in the neighborhood of four steps, it is so consistently ignored. But at least I understand what he called now. Maybe Kennedy just didn't want the game to start getting enjoyable again -- it was after all the only open court play in a series of intentional fouls.
The Chris Paul technical foul is still a complete mystery to me. At least it only cost the Clippers one point. That's no big deal, right?
Then there were the final three foul calls on J.J. Redick. The first two were on egregious Manu Ginobili flops and the real question is why referees continue to fall for it. (I would ask the same thing when they so often fall for some of Chris Paul's chicanery.) There's also the simple matter that a screen involves contact, and if the screen is legal (which Redick's fourth foul clearly was) then it matters not one bit that the person being screened falls down. Most hilarious of all of course is how the decidedly unphysical Redick managed to "throw Ginobili to the ground like a sack of potatoes" (to quote Kevin Harlan on TNT) twice in a matter of about a minute. The answer of course is that he didn't.
The sixth foul on Redick was by far the worst. In a two point game, with 48 seconds remaining, how do you call a foul that did not happen, simultaneously giving the Spurs free throws AND disqualifying Redick? Wow. That one was, once again, absurdly late. Parker shoots, Redick cleanly challenges, and Jordan blocks the shot -- and then the whistle sounds. What?
The Clippers had plenty of other reasons to lose this game, starting with missing 12 straight threes. They even, somehow, had enough chances to win it, including one they took away from themselves. This isn't Game 5 in Oklahoma City bad. But if there had never been a Game 5 in OKC, this would be the Game 5 we'd be talking about for the next decade.