Lakers 120, Timberwolves 117: it takes courage

Zach Harper —  March 28, 2013 — 9 Comments

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.

Zach Harper

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9 responses to Lakers 120, Timberwolves 117: it takes courage

  1. Don’t forget when Peterson called out the officials earlier asking what the Wolves need to do to get a 3 second violation called on Dwight Howard. I beleive Peterson said that Pek needs to count for them as they are scared to call that on Dwight. Cause that’s what an NBA players needs to do, an officials job for them.

  2. One play I remember was Williams not getting a call and the Lakers moving up the floor. Williams stood back at the offensive side and argued with the ref. He should have been teed up there. I really dislike seeing players complain about calls and taking themselves out of the game like that. Of course Lakers scored on that possession as they were 5 against 4.

    Otherwise an excellent game.

  3. Overall I agree that NBA refereeing is reasonalby good. And the wolves could have played better. But an obvious foul in front of an official with a great view of the play has to be whistled. It shouldn’t matter that it was Kobe. Even Howard came
    by and bonked Rubio on th head. However if it was Kobe shooting and Rubio fouling I’m guessing the foul is called. Is it fair? No. Is it life? Yes.

  4. Bryant scoffed after the game when asked about and said “you don’t call that.”

    Kobe has to be the single most arrogant player in this era of the nba. He incessantly complains about fouls not called on others. And he plays with world peace who is given more latitude on defense than anyone I have ever seen. It must be nice to live with rise colored glasses.

  5. I agree with Zack, it was a fun game and when you give up 120 points to the Lakers, you don’t really deserve the win. I also don’t think that there are larger forces at work, influencing the referees. However, all these inconsistently called games are baffling to me and some calls are just inconceivable.

    Jamison had a 4 point play in the right corner, with 4:15 left in the 3rd quarter. The replay was bad, because it followed the shot and didn’t focus on the shooter, but I don’t see Rubio making any contact with Jamison whatsoever. Jamison didn’t fall down, I didn’t see Rubio hitting him on the hand and Rubio simply flew by him. The referee who called the foul on Rubio, didn’t even have a clear angle, because Williams was in between the two, also contesting the shot.

    The foul on Rubio is clear as day, the referee is right next to it and there is definitely contact. Yes, the referee wasn’t the same, but how can you make the 1st call and then not call the other?

    I have seen so many games this season, that were inconsistently officiated and it takes away from the game and only feeds to the rumors and conspiracy theories. I don’t know how to improve the officiating or whether more transparency, a 4th official or more replays would improve the current status. Something has to be done though, because calls like that shouldn’t happen (and when it happens to the Lakers, the league bends over backwards to accommodate to them).

    @Zack Harper:
    Just because the Wolves average more freethrows per game than the Heat, doesn’t mean that the Wolves get more respect from the refs. The Heat probably average more fastbreak points than the Wolves, they play at a lower pace and they have attempted 263 less shots in the restricted area. Combine that with the fact that the Heat shoot much more accurately in the paint than the Wolves (60.1% vs. 51.6%) and all I am thinking is, the Wolves get a lot more non-calls than the Heat and ought to shoot a lot more freethrows. I mean D-Will couldn’t possibly have missed that many dunks, right?

  6. It’s the big calls with the game on the line that matter the most, not the overall percentage of fouls. With all due respect, league officials have handed many teams victories over the Wolves in the final seconds or at critical junctures, and it’s been going on for years. To suggest otherwise just seems ludicrous to me. Also, to pretend that there is no corruption in NBA officiating given the fact that a referee went to prison over it seems disingenuous. Are we really supposed to believe that not one single other ref should have been implicated, or was at least complicit in their silence? Completely unbelievable. The term “scapegoat” was coined for precisely that type of scenario. Some unlucky participant is always singled out for sacrifice in the public arena when systemic corruption in a revered institution gets out of control and becomes too obvious to ignore.

    I don’t know what happens on European courts, but I sincerely hope the biased (and yes, corrupt) nature of the officiating at times doesn’t affect the psyche of Ricky Rubio. I have a strong suspicion that the Heat’s vaunted winning streak would have ended in Minneapolis quite some time ago, if Ray Allen crying into his diaper hadn’t stopped the ferocious onslaught the Wolves were bringing to the royal family of the NBA. I believe the game was within three points even after that ridiculous call and mandatory T on Barrea, courtesy of an ice-cold clutch 3 from Alexei, which was, of course, overturned. Then, the obviously slanted charge call against Cunningham to finally extinguish the spirit of the Wolves, who kept clawing for victory despite the completely bogus nature of the two previous whistles against them. But the officials simply refused to allow the electric momentum of Minnesota to continue that night, and they clearly made a decision to hand the game to the team that had to win. To imagine any of those three calls being made against the Heat in Miami when they were staging a comeback of similar proportion is laughable. To imagine them being made sequentially is patently absurd.

    Like I said, I just hope it doesn’t get in Rubio’s head. He’s already had two potentially signature and career-shaping NBA victories stolen from him, and it would be a shame if he started to internalize and expect the revealing rationale of Kobe to become a normal part of his American basketball experience: “You don’t call that.” Why? Because I’m more important than you are, and my team has more stature than yours does. Sorry if the truth stings a little, kid, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it after awhile….

  7. Why are there no repercussions on the refs for these missed calls? Toronto is another team that has had their fair share of apologies given to them this year. Why aren’t the refs suspended for a game or eliminated from being on a playoff crew if they make or don’t make calls bad enough that the league has to apologize for them? It just seems wrong that there are no repercussions when mistakes big enough to warrant an apology happen. If the league has to apologize for you, something should happen. I know missed calls are a part of the game, but the league doesn’t apologize for all of them, so it seems fair to me that refs get punished if the call is bad enough to warrant an apology. Also, the lack of remorse from the ref in this case would be a clear sign for me, if I was the league, to suspend him. If you miss a call, so be it, but if you are still denying that nothing should have changed after the fact when it was so clear that you were wrong, that guy should have to face consequences.

    The only way we can fix it is to do what Rubio said and earn their respect. The only way to earn their respect is to overcome adversity like this and still win the game. Complaining doesn’t help, but how petty are the refs that they can’t handle it like a professional and T up players who get out of line? At the end of the day, the refs control how much complaining the players throw at them, so to take that and be petty about it by not making calls is stupid. Put your foot down or get another profession because you picked one of the tougher ones available that will always have people criticize your performance. I can respect a ref that admits a mistake and shows remorse. I can’t respect someone who can’t deal with the hard parts of the job in a professional manner.

  8. I agree with you Zach that officiating is hard and rarely are refs predisposed to favoritism or malignancy that fans often suspect them of. I can’t imagine how much flak I would have taken in all the high school games I’ve ref’d had there been instant replay. I think more importantly for referees than whether they precisely got every call right by the books is how consistent they are at calling the game for both sides. What is more frustrating is that they called that stupid ticky-tack foul to give Jamison the 4pt play but not Rubio on the last shot.

  9. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories when it comes to the NBA,

    I would agree that there’s no game-fixing going on, or any kind of criminal conduct, but there’s definitely a thumb on the scale in certain situations, Zach. And you acknowledge this in the next paragraph. What is the “Superstar Call” system if it’s not a conspiracy? Do you think that just sprang up without any input from the Association? And you can’t possibly claim that this double standard, that is spoken of freely in NBA offices, doesn’t screw teams like Minnesota way more often than not.

    If that was Rubio fouling Kobe on a last-second game-tying shot, you better believe they make that call.

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