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Clippers - Grizzlies: The Officiating Hurt the Clippers in the Last Two Minutes, But They Hurt Themselves Too

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Blown calls were just part of the team’s futile finish.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies
Note: this referee is Zach Zarba, who didn’t officiate the game in question. This image is from a prior game.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers lost last night. That sucks.

The refs made some mistakes at the end that hurt the Clippers, which sucks even more.

Typically, I prefer for the Clippers to lose on their own failures than missed calls. It’s easier to analyze and come up with ways to “fix” the Clippers’ mistakes—there isn’t much to do about missed calls. So yeah, it sucks that the referees made several clear mistakes down the stretch.

Fortunately, the referees weren’t the only ones who messed up. Even though calls might have tipped the scales in the Grizzlies’ favor, the Clippers still had plenty of chances and had to mess up quite a bit in order to find a way to lose that game.

The NBA’s last two minute report shows three missed calls, all in Memphis’ favor:

  • A three-second violation on Vince Carter that wasn’t called with 1:31 left.
  • A “kick ball” called on DeAndre Jordan with 1:27 left, where he clearly deflected the ball with his hand.
  • A travel by Zach Randolph that wasn’t called with 31 seconds left.

So, briefly, what was the fall-out? Well, the missed call on Carter and the “kick ball” were on the same possession, and the Grizzlies didn’t score on it. The three-second violation would have given the Clippers the ball out of bounds, essentially the same result as the defensive rebound. The “kick ball” would have sparked a fast break had it not been called—but technically, the play should have been over four seconds before on the three-second violation. So while the kick call is frustrating, it didn’t amount to much. Plus, refs miss things sometimes. They’re humans.

The travel by Zach Randolph might have been a bigger deal. James Ennis earned free throws 5 seconds later, making one and cutting the Clippers’ lead from two to one. Obviously, if the travel is called and the Clippers get the ball back up two, the entire last thirty seconds play out differently.

What’s also at least worth mention is that the foul that sent Ennis to the line—committed by Chris Paul—looked questionable at the time. The NBA referee office ruled that it was the correct call, which is understandable, because there is no strict definition for what a shooting foul is, and in real-time the whistle gets blown sometimes. It happens. What shouldn’t happen is for the whistle to blow well after the play.

And... well, this whistle was really late. Here’s the video of the play.

Anyway, that’s the NBA’s last two minute report. The referees let the Clippers down, in a sense. But the Clippers let themselves down too. Here’s my mock last 30-seconds report for the Clippers in this game:

  • With a 1-point lead and 23-seconds left, the Clippers got the ball back. Basically, all they had to do was hold the ball, Memphis would commit an intentional foul, and one of the Clippers’ elite free throw shooters would go to the line. Well... Jamal Crawford got the ball in a poor spot when the inbounds play didn’t develop, and immediately tried to throw a quick jump pass before the Memphis trap got there. The pass was stolen by Marc Gasol, and the Grizzlies were back in business.
  • Now defending with the same time and score, the Clippers let up an open three to Marc Gasol. While we might not know him as an elite shooter, Gasol has added the three to his game this year and he had already hit three in the game. A defensive let down at this stage in the game was a big failure.
  • Down two with just seconds left, the Clippers ran a play that got J.J. Redick a decent look at the rim on a straight-away jumper—and the ball slipped out of his hands. That essentially ended the game.

Those three errors are far from the Clippers’ only errors in this game. Jamal Crawford got called for a technical foul with 3:40 left in the game (he also air balled two really bad shots in the fourth quarter). Blake Griffin missed a variety of shots around the rim over the course of the game. (To be fair, contributions from Griffin throughout the game and Crawford in the second half were the main reasons that the Clippers were in the game down the stretch.) The team as a whole didn’t come out with the same intensity.

So yeah, the impact of the officiating was lame. I was pissed during the end of the game and I know that a lot of Clippers fans were as well. The reality of these situations is the same as always, though: if you focus on what others did wrong, you’re focusing on things that you can’t control. That’s the perspective that Doc Rivers brought after the game: