Russell Westbrook had a brilliant Game 4, as I'm sure you've heard. Despite a dumb foul at the end, he converted 20 field goals for 43 points. But that performance wasn't good enough for some people, and I'm not talking about Westbrook's critics. There are those who believe his mere three free throws meant that Miami was getting the benefit of some calls.
So I went back to the tape, trying to find out whether Russ had issues getting whistles. It is my suspicion that fans and media are more inclined to notice when Miami (a largely disliked, over-analyzed team) is the beneficiary of ref decisions than when their opponents get friendly officiating. It is also my suspicion that Westbrook was called fairly on Tuesday, since he took a staggering 18 attempts outside the paint, on which he shot splendidly. Below is the chronology of Russ' shots inside the paint (where fouls tend to be drawn).
- 1st quarter (7:09): Missed dunk. Westbrook was wide open, dunked it off the front rim.
- 2nd quarter (8:51): Missed layup, transition. LeBron James hates to foul, especially when he's beat. He just let Russ make the layup, unhindered.
- 2nd quarter (2:15): Westbrook draws charge on LeBron. I'm citing this just to show that Westbrook drew a foul on a superstar, even if it didn't lead to free throws.
- 2nd quarter (8:19): Made layup, beats Wade badly. Westbrook destroys D-Wade off the dribble, and is free and clear for his bucket.
- 2nd quarter (1:18): Dunk. Westbrook correctly guesses that Thabo will miss, gets put-back. He’s all alone. Russ seems to know that Sefolosha misses around the rim, and times his dunks accordingly.
- 3rd quarter (2:15): Layup. This play came out of some chaos. Ibaka keeps fumbling the ball, shovels it to an open Westbrook with a second on the shot clock. With no one around him, Russ flips the ball in.
- 3rd quarter (1:43): Missed layup, possible foul. Finally! Our first possible whistle. Westbrook blows by Chalmers, meets Bosh at the rim. Bosh jumps backwards while contesting in the Popovich “don’t foul” style. Russ falls, throws his hands up. OKC retrieves possession, Durant is later fouled on the play.
- 3rd quarter (00:6): Made jumper, possible foul. This wasn't an attempt near the rim, but it was, perhaps, a missed call. Westbrook drives at Battier in transition, shoots a pull up, falls down near Chalmers. Russ thinks he was fouled, but it’s not clear on replay that Chalmers hit him. James Jones concurrently pops Kevin Durant, resulting in a free throw for KD.
- 4th quarter (6:11): FOUL. Our first called foul. Wade hits Westbrook on a jumper contest, obvious call.
- 4th quarter (10: 28): Made layup. BEAUTIFUL Euro-step freezes James Jones. No one contests the shot.
- 4th quarter (8:40): Made layup. He gets the ball off a cut, and whips around Udonis Haslem and James Jones. No one is near him on the made layup.
- 4th quarter (8:04): Made layup, possible foul. A truly incredible double-clutch drive on Haslem, Westbrook falls down. Haslem goes straight up and doesn’t go for the block. I say "possible" foul loosely, as I don't think contact was made.
- 4th quarter (7:21): Made layup & FOUL. He catches Halsem under the rim.
- 4th quarter (1:45): Transition layup, possible foul. Battier meets him below the rim. I don’t see contact, but it’s possible.
- 4th quarter (0:40): Hand off, leaner. Beautiful play, evades contact.
So, in review, Russell Westbrook really wasn't even in position to draw a foul until the late third quarter. On the two plays where Russ thought he was fouled (as in, where he motioned to the refs by throwing up his arms), Durant actually ended up shooting free throws. Had Westbrook missed his and-one layup, he would have tallied four FTs in his hyper-aggressive fourth quarter, not bad for a guy averaging 5.2 FTAs in the postseason.
There is much to criticize about how the Miami Heat handle officials, if that's your hobby. Dwyane Wade complains on every call, Shane Battier constantly flops as though getting zapped by a cattle prod. I just don't see reasons to criticize how officials handle the Heat.
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