MIAMI — Reputations and situations.
When it comes to NBA on-court violations, those other “-tions” seem to count just as much as the actual flesh-on-flesh interactions. At least, that’s how columnist Rick Morrisey of the Chicago Sun-Times sees it after watching the Bulls up close in their playoff run against Indiana, Atlanta and now Miami and the rest of the postseason on flat screens.
Morrissey verbally scratched his head over what he feels is the trickiest part of the referee-player dynamic: Adhering to a consistent standard – across stars and non-stars, across quarters, across games and series – for what is and is not a foul.
What is tolerated in the lane, he suggests, is forbidden outside of it. A slap by a big name doesn’t generate the same whistle as a tickle from a journeyman. Then there is the convergence of those tricky reputations and situations, Morrissey wrote:
In Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Thursday, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden went to the basket on a fast break. The Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, who has a reputation for being a defensive liability, met him there. Nowitzki made a passing attempt at stopping Harden, who scored. There was hardly any contact, but that didn’t stop the ref from calling a foul on Nowitzki.
Two factors were at work to explain the foul that wasn’t a foul:
- Everybody knows Nowitzki is bad at defense.
- A fast-break layup? There’s bound to be contact.
Whistle. Foul, Nowitzki.
Let’s face it, officiating an NBA game has to be a nearly impossible job. Call everything you see and the game becomes unwatchable, a Sousa march of whistles. Let too much go and mayhem ensues.
As always, it comes down to consistency, game to game and, more important, throughout a game, regardless of players involved or clock. If a Kyle Korver-on-Dwyane Wade foul is the same, first quarter as last, and the same as a Wade-on-Krover foul that night, that’s probably the most anyone can hope for.
As Chicago center Joakim Noah said after practice Friday: “As a player, you’ve just got to get a feel for what you can get away with. Sometimes they call it tighter than others. That’s just part of the game.”