I was watching the Spurs/Nuggets game last night. The Spurs couldn't guard the 3-point line and couldn't hit enough of their own threes to win. They played well for stretches, but not the entire game (recap to come I'm sure will give you better analysis than this). It was good to see Splitter play well early and disheartening to not see him play late. One thing about that game struck me though, and that's what I want to rant about.The 5th Foul
How can ESPN not show a replay of, quite possibly, the most atrocious foul call of the season? Antonio McDyess makes a great defensive play, gets his hand up to make a tough shot even more difficult and the shot comes up short. Blair has the rebound, Nuggets and Spurs alike are heading back up the court and then out of no where, a whistle. It's McDyess fifth foul, our best big man last night is now hampered with foul trouble late in the game and cannot be as agressive as we need him to be. Yet this play is never replayed and hardly even mentioned by the "announcers".
Game changing? Probably not, but certainly not definitely NOT game changing. Did you get that? The Spurs had just tied the game after a big run by the Nuggets. That defensive stop would have given them a chance to take the lead late in the game. No dice. So why was this call made you ask? I have a little theory I'd like to share.
So last night in Denver the Spurs and Nuggets battled in a typically physical afair. I think it's fair to say that the Referees did not have their best game last night. It wasn't bad because the Spurs lost and it wasn't bad just for the Spurs. Manu would mauled in the lane with no call one possession and then a touch foul would be called on McDyess or Splitter. Then Lawson would get bumped hard without a whistle and then the Spurs would get a cheap hand checking foul on Nene. It was just a rough night for the grey clad short guys with whistles.
I miss Steve Javie. I can't believe I just typed that.
The Art of the Makeup Call
Basketball is one of, if not the, most difficult games to officiate. You've got a "non-contact" sport, played by some of the most athletic guys in the world, played in a small area and with a ton of rules. The only two sports that come close to being as difficult, in my opinion, are Hockey and Soccer. Hockey, because of the speed and physicality that is allowed and Soccer because the amount of space that the ref has to cover and all the flopping that goes on.
Really, basketball is just a bunch of judgment calls. There is contact, lots of it, but it's not always a foul, but sometimes it is. Got it? So as you can see, lots of grey area. A ref also deals with the lobbying of players and coaches, and no matter what the refs say, it effects them. Now we get to the makeup call.
It's a fine art. You have to be aware that you, as a ref, have missed a call or made a bad call. Often players, coaches or fans will let you know of such a call if you aren't already aware of it. From there you feel bad or even just sub-consciously look to give the team render said bad call a break. So at the next opportunity you, as a ref, will then make either a clearly bad call or a 50-50 call in the favor of the team you last hosed. Of course if the initial makeup call is even worse than the first missed or bad call you then will be obligated to makeup for that call.
As you can see it's a vicious cycle. A really good ref will not get into making the ever so popular makeup calls. They will own their bad or missed call and try to do better. I would put forth that the refs last night got caught up in the game of makeup calls. Once you're in that game it is extremely difficult to get out. Perhaps it was just a bad night by those particular refs or maybe that's the way they just officiate. Either way, giving one team 50% more free-throw attempts (39-26) is going to have an affect on a game.
Denver gets credit for winning and the Spurs for losing. Ultimately it is on the players to play better if they want to win. This is not an excuse as to why San Antonio lost last night, but merely a rant on the fact that officials have got to stop making calls to appease the fans, players and coaches. Be professional and make the right calls. I know, I know easier said than done and trust me, I'm not holding my breath that anything will change any time soon.