NBA Playoff basketball, Game 3. Down 2-0, this is a virtual must-win for your team. After all, no team in NBA playoff history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series.
At home with six seconds to go in regulation. After several clutch plays by your veteran squad, you find yourself up two points with a foul to give. This is a "no-brainer," right?
Any coach worth their weight in salt would use their foul to give, specifically to avoid giving up a three-point basket. You have to. Just about anything is better than a three (or three-point play).
Under no circumstance can you afford to lose this game, most especially on a morale-breaking trey with so little time on the clock (in this case, however, it would be a series-ending trey...remember, no team has ever come back to win a NBA playoff series after losing the first three games). Not at home.
This is as close to a “must win” as exists in professional basketball (Game 7 > any elimination game at home > any elimination game on the road > Game 3 of a series when you’ve already lost the first two).
In a game like this you need your star to come through big time: (check) Dirk Nowitzki 33 points to go along with 16 rebounds.
In a game like this you need clutch plays down the stretch: (check) Jason Terry corner three with less than a minute to play.
And yet, the Dallas Mavericks find themselves in just such a predicament.
Your superstar went off for his. Your team made clutch plays down the stretch. Judging by the foul trouble plaguing your opponent, the whistle has been kind to you (I think Twitter is a waste of time, but I bet Mavericks owner Mark Cuban “tweeted” the following after Jason Terry’s trey: “ awesome shot by J-T! ref’s may actually let us have this one… remember to send devil stern a thank you”).
What do Olivia Newton and NBA Playoff basketball have in common? “Let’s get physical, physical.”
Even being the world’s biggest Duke fan has not stopped me from agreeing with Bill Simmons of ESPN’s Page 2: NBA officiating is “as bad as ever” (incidentally, Mr. Simmons is one of my favorite sports writers).
Generally, complaints about officiating fall into three categories:
- Superstar gets all of the calls, no matter how BS they are (or conversely, scrub can’t get a call to save their life when playing against said superstar, no matter how obvious the call).
- Too many, potentially game-impacting calls are either made or ignored throughout the game in favor of whichever team the NBA “wants to win.”
- The refs blow an obvious call in crunch time (this rule varies for superstar players, depending on how much the league “needs” them for marketing purposes).
The latter would seem to apply in this case. I, for one, prefer if the refs swallow their whistles when the game is literally on the line.
Save for an overtly blatant egregious violation of the rules, the outcome should be determined by the players we pay to see. As crazy as Game 6 the 1998 NBA Finals was, I’m cool with No. 23 getting away with an obvious offensive foul (sorry, Utah!).
Now granted, had Bryon Russell given the zebras any reason at all to call a foul in favor of MJ, they most certainly would have. But I digress…
In this case, I blame the Mavs for their defeat. As a player, everyone should have known what to expect (it was almost as if they wanted their playoff fate left in the hands of the refs).
That’s why I’m fine with the outcome of Game 3 of the Nuggets-Mavericks second round series. Antoine Wright should have known better.
For one, if you are going to use your foul to give, make it count. Not some “bump him with the body and expect to get the call” nonsense. Make sure that Melo never even gets into a shooting motion. Grab for the ball and don’t let go!
Also, Melo isn’t exactly one of those “protected” superstars. This isn’t the 2006 Heat and Dwyane Wade (in which case Mavs coach Rick Carlisle should have just had his squad line up at the free-throw line).
This isn’t the Cavs and LeBron (where any violation of his personal space results in a foul). This isn’t even the Lakers and Kobe. This is the Nuggets and Melo.
Now give credit where it is due: Melo continued to play through the contact and dropped a three-point BOMB (stick a fork in the Mavs, because they are done)!
And that brings us back to the how/why of this discussion. With everything seemingly in their favor, the reason the Dallas Mavericks are going fishing next week (they may pull out a win at home on Monday, but this one’s not going past Game 5) is simple: in every sport you take nothing for granted; you keep on playing until you actually hear a whistle (and even then, I’d say keep playing for an extra second or two, just to be safe).
Oh, and it didn’t hurt that the Nuggets superstar came through in the clutch with a dagger! I mean seriously, how many players make that shot in that circumstance?
For those of us who forgot just how clutch Melo can be (sorry, Melo): thanks for the reminder.
NBA Playoff Basketball: It’s FANTASTIC!