NBA Playoffs 2012: Whose Game Is It Anyway? Referees vs. Players

Ashley Nevel@@getonmyNevelContributor IIMay 28, 2012

The officiating in the NBA has always been something to criticize. But after observing officials' authority in the 2012 playoffs, the officiating should be everything to criticize.

Former and current NBA players, basketball analysts and even professional athletes from other sports have expressed their views on some of the twisted calls made by referees. Some of the most obvious calls are either missed or dramatically blown out of proportion.

Could there be a motive or influence on certain calls that are made? Maybe. Who knows exactly what goes on behind closed doors.

If one thing is for sure, commentators do a phenomenal job at picking apart all of the elements during a game by showing replays in order to explain them to the audience.

On ESPN First Take, sports analyst Stephen A. Smith provided us with some of the reasons that influence a whistle being blown throughout a game. First things first, Smith explained that officials make different calls throughout the first three quarters of the game. This allows them to establish and adapt to the tempo, aggression and the behaviors of the teams and players. In the fourth quarter, certain calls that are made earlier in the game usually will not be enforced either for time restraints or after the tone of the game has been set.

For example, the physical components of the Pacers and the Heat were anticipated before their series even began. Both of these teams are known for their competitive nature and toughness on the court. Even Miami’s coach Erik Spoelstra said, via Ben Golliver of CBS Sports, “This next series could be played in a cage,” and indeed it has been.





It is the job of the officials to determine the levels of contact on the court throughout a game, and if both teams are equally drawing more physical contact, fewer calls will be made. The Heat felt snubbed by referees after their matchup with the Pacers.

The Miami Heat are known as one of the toughest teams in the league. With Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, it is easy to acquire that reputation. However, Miami demonstrated their dislike for that particular reputation after opponents continue to take advantage of them.

After all the trash talk and dirty fouls committed by the Indiana Pacers, the Heat knew that the only way to stop the nonsense and poor sportsmanship was to handle it on their own.

In Game 5 of the playoffs, Dwyane Wade took a hard bloody foul to the head from  Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough. In retaliation, Miami forward Udonis Haslem served Hansbrough with a two-armed hit to the, body causing him to land on the floor. Both hits by Haslem and Hansbrough were labeled flagrant fouls, but only Hansbrough was spared suspension. Haslem was suspended for one game.

Fair? Not really. Hansbrough’s hit drew blood. Haslem merely committed a good, hard foul.

Another Heat player, Dexter Pittman, took it upon himself to defend his teammate LeBron James after Pacers guard Lance Stephenson gave James a choke sign after he missed two key free throws in Game 3. With 19 seconds left in a Game 5 victory for the Heat, Pittman struck Stephenson in the throat with a hard elbow. As a result, Pittman was suspended for three games.





Henry Abbott wrote an article on regarding the NBA’s expanded guidelines on calling technical fouls in September 2010 that instructed officials to call a technical for:


• Players making aggressive gestures, such as air punches, anywhere on the court.

• Demonstrative disagreement, such as when a player incredulously raises his hands or smacks his own arm to demonstrate how he was fouled.

• Running directly at an official to complain about a call.

• Excessive inquiries about a call, even in a civilized tone.

Agree or disagree—but Lance Stephenson’s choke gesture seems a bit aggressive for the league and officials to ignore. Although Pittman’s actions on Stephenson are prohibited, his motives for the hard foul should not have been ignored after the continuous trash talk, gestures and hits made by the Pacers.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke too soon after stating, via CBS Miami, “The league does not have a problem with hard fouls on our two main guys. In nine games now, there’s been over a dozen hard fouls to the face, some of the tomahawk variety, some have drawn blood. They don’t have a problem with it so we don’t have a problem with it. We’ll focus on what we can control.”



Whether his comments were wrong or not, the NBA fined Spoelstra $25,000 after his comments. He is among several NBA employees who have been slapped with fines this season, including:



 -- Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, who was fined $15,000 for expressing his opinion of how the referees should officiate against the biggest “floppers” in the league, referring to the Miami Heat.

 -- Atlanta Hawks owner Michael Gearon was another victim of the NBA when he was fined $35,000 for publicly criticizing the officiating and calling Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett the NBA’s dirtiest player.

-- Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $75,000 for criticizing the referees.

-- Bulls point guard Derrick Rose was fined $25,000 for publicly criticizing officials due to their lack of foul calls.

That right there is $175,000 that the NBA has racked up this season for vocal attacks on referees.


How come we never hear about the NBA deducting money from referees' paychecks after poorly made calls? I understand David Stern and his committee’s duty to protect the reputation of the NBA and its officials, but who protects the game of basketball? The officiating should be conducted fairly, which has not been the case this season, especially in the playoffs.



Players, coaches and owners are forced to face and accept the poor calls made by referees. Who stands up for the teams if they are not allowed to stand up for themselves?



If there is some sort of method of reviewing and keeping track of the officiating, David Stern should speak on it so that NBA affiliates, commentators and fans are aware of the appropriate actions taken to penalize and select referees.

It is clear that David Stern wants to continue building a trustworthy relationship between the officials and fans. The integrity of NBA officials has been questioned now for several years after gambling issues were brought into the picture. Many fans do not trust officials to make the right calls.

Let's draw our attention to some obviously bad officiating throughout the playoffs.


 How often does a team foul 42 times in a game? According to my calculations 42 times is extremely rare. Throughout this postseason, the average amount of fouls per game is somewhere between 18 and 21.

After losing the first two games in the playoff series, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to catch a lucky break in Game 3 when they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-96 at the Staples Center. This game earned an F for officiating.



Let’s begin by admitting that Kobe Bryant is a pro at drawing fouls.


The Lakers knew the only way around the Thunder’s system was to get the players into foul trouble, causing them to be a bit more resistant on defense. After playing playing seasons in the NBA, Kobe knows how to put on an act in order to and influence the calls made by referees.



In Game 3, he kept initiating contact with James Harden, who plays outstanding defense. Harden had to maintain his positioning, but no matter what he did he would get called for the foul. The refs would call him out on the lightest contact just because Kobe would flop and overreact. These types of calls were made frequently.


Without a doubt, Kobe definitely has the upper hand when it comes to the calls made by officials, especially when he is on his home court.  There were times when the refs should have called a double foul on Harden and Kobe when they would tangle up, but no way was that going to happen in Los Angeles.

Where is the fair, unbiased officiating? 

What happened to NBA senior vice president of referee operations Ron Johnson’s comment, quoted by Henry Abbott from, “We don’t want our players looking like they’re complaining about calls on the court because it makes them look like complainers. You do that six times in a game, it really starts to look bad on television.”



Well, I got news for you: It does look bad on television, and fans complain about it all the time. Kobe Bryant is one player who is known to complain in his efforts to sway the official decision.


Along with Kobe, Metta World Peace even got away with aggressive fouls, especially the one where he trampled over Russell Westbrook, causing him to fall to the ground. Another obvious no call was when Pau Gasol made contact with Kevin Durant as he went to the basket for the rebound. Durant was clearly fouled and fell to the floor.




Remember: The Thunder supposedly committed 42 fouls. That number is absurd, not just in my opinion, but the commentators’ opinions as well. Without a doubt, those foul calls could have cost OKC that game. Only losing by 3 points after giving away 42 free throws, just imagine how many points they would have won by if the referees would have been a bit more neutral.

In Game 5, the Thunder hosted a 106-90 win against the Lakers, eliminating them from the playoffs. During this matchup, the referees made some calls favoring the home team, OKC, but these calls did not “fix” the game.

Metta World Peace almost exploded at one of the calls made against him. In his attempts to stop a fast break, World Peace made a hard foul on Thabo Sefolosha (shown in the video clip below). Indeed it was a hard foul, and TNT analyst Reggie Miller predicted the officials to call it a flagrant only because it was Metta World Peace. Miller’s comments were, in fact, correct. It is crazy how even analysts are able to predict the motives behind a referee's call.



A few other public figures that thought the call was a joke were TNT analyst Charles Barkley, along with Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher and the Bulls shooting guard Ronnie Brewer who expressed their views via Twitter.



Due to a reputation for violent behavior on the court, Metta World Peace will forever be included in the phrase “guilt by association.” If a foul is not flagrant, it should not be called flagrant. World Peace already served his seven game suspension for the elbow hit to James Harden’s head. The fact that he is being penalized for previous actions is just not fair.


Since when did officials call fouls based on reputation? If he served his suspension that should be the end of it.



World Peace also earned himself a technical foul for his choice of profane words toward the official. Finally, Kobe Bryant received a technical as well for his continuous argument and complaint with the refs in his attempts to defend Metta World Peace. It’s about time Kobe gets a technical foul for complaining about calls.

Rajon Rondo is another player who demonstrated anger toward an official in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.



Rondo was ejected from the game after bumping into referee Marc Davis while protesting a foul call against teammate Brandon Bass with only 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Atlanta’s Josh Smith and Boston’s Kevin Garnett both scrambled for the loose ball after Hawks forward Joe Johnson lost control of it. Smith was able to get it, while Bass attempted to force a jump ball by reaching around Smith’s flailing body.



When Bass was whistled for his sixth foul, Rondo lost it, initiating his first technical foul and seconds later obtained another technical and automatic ejection by bumping into the ref.

This was not Rondo’s first altercation with a referee this season. He was previously suspended for two games after throwing a ball at a referee.

Rondo’s aggressive, heat-of-the-moment reactions will not be tolerated by the league; however, his actions, at the very least, should be understood.


These players want to play the game of basketball and, most importantly, they want and expect the game to be officiated fairly. When the commentators suggest that that play was clearly a jump ball, Rondo’s actions should not be questioned. He knew that play was a jump ball, and when the referees failed to get it right, he snapped. One can argue that that call cost the Celtics a chance to win that game.







Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu, Phoenix’s Robin Lopez and Lakers coach Mike Brown were also handed out suspensions this season for making contact with an official.

It is evident that players, coaches and owners are fed up with the officiating, and they are not afraid to speak or act upon it.

I can sit here and pick out every awful call made by officials, but that would not necessarily change or draw any more attention to the issue.


Since NBA participants will be fined for their thoughts, comments and concerns with the way the officiating has been implemented, the problem and solution remain stuck at a crossroad. Fans are losing respect for the league due to the inconsistency of the officiating and the ridiculous fines that have been handed out to the people brave enough to speak up about it.

Yes, officiating is a hard job because it requires quick decision-making in a fast-paced game; however, there are three referees on the court for that reason. It is their job to be fast, efficient and neutral when making calls, and if they repeatedly fail to do their job accurately, they should be fined and punished as well.

NOTE: Protecting the reputation of a referee can start by admitting their flaws and acting upon them. Ignoring what they do wrong throughout a game has just as much detriment to their reputation as an official.

As of now, it is clear that fans, players, coaches, owners and commentators still have doubt in the integrity and trust of the referees and the NBA as a whole. It is the league’s responsibility to change that, not by handing out fines, but by developing a different strategy that fairly holds both the officials and players accountable for their actions. 


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