Plenty of New York Knicks fans were frustrated with the officiating of their team's 102-95 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, but as tempting as it might be to isolate the officials as the reason for the disappointing defeat, the truth is that the Knicks were really just victims of solid interior defense and their own inefficient offensive tendencies.
That's going to be hard to stomach for the New York faithful, especially those that broke out in "These refs suck" chants throughout the game. And this is just a guess, but the masses that took to Twitter to lambast the officials probably won't want to hear that the refs didn't screw their team, either.
Before diving into a breakdown, it's worth noting that there might appear to be some validity to Knicks fans' claims of biased officiating. After all, one of the most consistent scenes of Game 1 involved Carmelo Anthony barreling into Roy Hibbert in the lane.
Melo will not be tipping these refs come next Christmas. Looked like good D by Hibbert that time.— Jared Wade (@8pts9secs) May 5, 2013
Given Anthony's reputation as a scorer who tends to get his share of calls, it might seem surprising that the officials only sent him to the line six times.
But Hibbert has his own reputation, and more often than not, he defends by extending his arms vertically and forcing offensive players to score over him. At 7'2", that's no easy task.
Contact is common with Hibbert, but because he's known as a guy who holds his ground, he tends to get the benefit of the doubt on most collisions.
Looking back through the game, there are certainly a handful of calls that could have gone the other way. And because some of them came at critical times, or resulted in the loss of valuable New York assets, the overall officiating picture might have ended up seeming much more unfair than it actually was. Knicks fans sure seemed to think so, anyway.
Knicks fans in nearby section just yelling obscenities at the refs now. Tyson Chandler fouls out trying to contest a Hibbert fadeaway.— Jared Wade (@8pts9secs) May 5, 2013
But some of the game's dubious calls actually went against the Pacers as well; the Knicks weren't the only team that might have had a gripe or two. For example, Indiana was whistled for four offensive fouls, while New York was tagged with just a pair.
But refs biases vs NY!? RT @hpbasketball: I think that's four offensive fouls against the Pacers in the 4th.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 5, 2013
Isn't cherry-picking evidence fun?
In the interest of being thorough, a broader scan through the numbers certainly doesn't indicate any overt unfairness in the officiating.
New York was called for 21 personal fouls, and wouldn't you know it, Indiana's foul total was identical. And when it came to shooting fouls, the whistle was similarly unbiased; the Knicks attempted 23 foul shots to the Pacers' 26.
While it might be tempting to cite that small free-throw discrepancy as evidence of some kind of anti-Knick bias, remember: The Pacers offense was much more focused on getting into the lane, as their plus-14 advantage in points in the paint attests.
Indiana attacked the rim off of cuts and crisp passes, which often caught an undersized crop of Knicks defenders off guard. Those situations always lead to more fouls because the defenders are scrambling to help and are often out of position.
Contrast that with the Knicks' tactic of attacking stationary, dug-in defensive players with one-on-one drives, and it's no wonder that New York failed to generate as many foul-shot opportunities.
Game 1 was really just an example of what happens when a predictable isolation offense runs up against a defense that has spent a season holding its ground and collapsing on drivers. Officials don't typically reward reckless forays into set defenders, even when said defenders might occasionally break the principal of straight verticality.
Sometimes, referees reward the more aggressive team. But it's generally not a good idea to rely on whistles to generate points.
Could a few calls have gone the Knicks' way? Sure. But the same could be said for the Pacers.
These refs have been brutal...but equally brutal for both sides— Ian O'Connor (@Ian_OConnor) May 5, 2013
Better ball movement, a less predictable offensive style and fewer isolation drives would all remedy the Knicks' offensive problems more effectively than complaints to the officials.
Paul George held Carmelo Anthony to 5-for-18 shooting and J.R. Smith to 0-for-7 shooting in the Pacers Game 1 win— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2013
If the Knicks don't sort out their problems on offense and incorporate a little more variety into their attack, the Pacers will continue to do what they've done all year: swallow up drivers and force difficult, contested shots. In Game 1, Indiana played its game and was brilliant on D from top to bottom.
Sometimes, good defense is just good defense. And compounding an inability to score by fixating on the refs didn't do the Knicks players any favors.
At some point, you have to decide whether you're playing against the refs, or the other team.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) May 5, 2013
So if Knicks fans really want to cry foul, maybe they ought to direct their ire toward Mike Woodson, whose "offense" seems destined to fail against the Pacers' organized, committed group of stoppers.