Lakers 120, Timberwolves 117: it takes courage
That’s the only thing we’re going to remember from this game and probably rightfully so.
The Lakers gave the Wolves a lot of opportunities to stay in this game. They played horrendous defense throughout much of the second half and the Wolves fought back to make it a game, thanks to Smite-a-Dwight in the 10th minute of the fourth quarter, a rare missed free throw from Steve Nash, and a rare missed free throw from Kobe Bryant. After Bryant’s missed free throw, Rubio grabbed the board and avoided Kobe as he hauled tail up the court. He released a low percentage runner that never really got a chance to go in because Kobe contested the shot.
In the process of contesting the shot, Bryant hacked Rubio across the forearm. It isn’t the most egregious non-call in NBA history, but it’s certainly a foul that should have been called because it potentially influenced the outcome of the game. Was it more important than the moments in the game that led to 120 points by the Lakers? Absolutely not. But it’s still a chance at a player tying the game and sending it to overtime that was taken away because of a foul that wasn’t called.
Jim Petersen correctly calls out referee Jason Phillips, who didn’t have the courage to make an obvious foul call. Then as you watch the video, he’s dismissive of Rubio’s pleas and pretty condescending. That’s what you call professionalism. Here’s the thing about the play:
I don’t believe it was the referees looking out for the Lakers in hopes of getting them to the playoffs by some league mandate. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories when it comes to the NBA, simply because some lowlife used to officiate games and bet on the NBA. I’ve read his book and I’ve looked into the fact-checking of his claims, and he’s a liar for the most part. I also am not sure that because it’s Kobe Bryant contesting the shot, he was allowed to make contact other players wouldn’t.
Is it feasible for that to be the reason? Of course. Superstar calls do happen in the NBA and I’m actually fine with it. Certain NBA rules are so ambiguous that it’s hard to get a uniformed agreement on how they should be called. Some people like a more physical game and some people like it to be called by the letter of the law. For the most part, I like the way NBA games are officiated. I think the majority of referees do a good job in a nearly impossible line of work. However, Jason Phillips is a terrible referee and worse is the way he acted after the game was over.
The Wolves are in a tough position here and maybe some of it is their fault. They complain A LOT about officiating throughout a game. I watch an unhealthy amount of basketball and while I don’t think they complain the most, I think it’s up near the top. People think it’s a market thing or a Minnesota thing but there seems to be this perception that officials screw the Wolves on calls. I don’t think this is accurate because the Wolves have the sixth highest free throw rate in the NBA and they’re actually ahead of the Miami Heat.
The Wolves live at the free throw line most nights (and that’s before Kevin Love returns), so they can’t be getting screwed on the majority of calls and non-calls. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen; it just means it doesn’t happen nearly as much as they’re complaining. If you’re complaining about things all the time, the ears you’re trying to reach can go deaf to your pleas. I’m not sure that’s excusable, but it just seems to be a fact.
And really, often when a foul gets called and a player doesn’t agree with the call, the player who got whistled for the foul wants to know why it was called. What did they do? Why was it different from another player they think is the same? They want an explanation. And the good officials provide that explanation most of the time. They won’t do it every time because they don’t have that kind of time. But they will explain what they saw and why they called it quite often.
Jason Phillips doesn’t appear in the video to be willing to discuss it with Rubio. He’s dismissive and almost mocking him as he says, “okay, okay.” That’s not what a professional does. Should the foul have been called? Absolutely. Was it called? No. Why wasn’t it called? We don’t know. Phillips doesn’t have the courage to make the call or explain it.
The Wolves gave up 120 points in this game. They didn’t deserve anything. They didn’t earn anything. If they play better, they’re never in a position for Jason Phillips to screw up such an obvious slap on the wrist. But even with the Wolves’ poor defense, they had a chance to send this game to overtime. Would Rubio have hit all of his free throws? Would the Lakers have still pulled out the victory in the extra period? Unfortunately, we will never get answers to that question. At best, we may get an apology from the league saying, “oops, our bad.” And that’s what sucks.
Because Jason Phillips doesn’t have the courage to do his job by either calling the foul or even explaining why there wasn’t a foul, it ruins what was a really fun game. I enjoyed seeing Pek dominate down low early. I enjoyed seeing Dante Cunningham’s jumper come alive in the fourth quarter. I enjoyed seeing Rubio rally from a malaise in the first half of the game and help this team make a push. I enjoyed seeing Chase Budinger active and spacing the floor. I enjoyed seeing Kirilenko battling on defense. I enjoyed seeing Dwight Howard block shots and I enjoyed seeing Kobe Bryant beautifully pick apart a team in the pick-and-roll in the third quarter. I enjoyed watching Steve Nash get aggressive with his jumper at times.
There was a lot of great basketball in this game and it was a fun game that was ruined in the final second. I have no idea if it affected the outcome of the game. But it would have been nice to find out.