Commentary

Don't let the officiating distract you

The playoffs got off to a great start this past weekend, so why not simply enjoy them?

Originally Published: April 18, 2011
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Amar'e StoudemireElsa/Getty ImagesAmare Stoudemire and the Knicks failed to make the big plays down the stretch against the Celtics.

You don't let a long wait at the airport baggage carousel ruin your trip to Hawaii. You shouldn't allow the fact people can't really infiltrate another person's dreams stop you from enjoying "Inception." And you're missing out if you let the officiating hamper your enjoyment of what's been a wonderful start to the NBA postseason.

It's the ongoing subplot in every playoffs, especially in the post-Tim Donaghy era. It's also a case for the small-minded, the easiest escape from real analysis. You'd think that with all of the advanced metrics available we could move beyond simply grabbing a box score and pointing at the free throw disparity. There's a story behind every number. And sometimes it might be as simple as which team played at home.

Favorable calls are among the benefits that come with home-court advantage, which is the whole point of trying to earn it in the first place. We saw it manifested on Saturday when the Bulls shot 32 free throws to the Pacers' 17. Or when the Heat went to the foul line 39 times and the 76ers 15. Sometimes it can be a reflection -- and even an exaggeration -- of style of play established during the regular season. This year the Heat ranked third in free throw attempts per game, averaging 28, while the 76ers were tied for 25th with an average of 23. The Heat had two of the NBA's top five players in free throws attempted in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, both of whom were heavily involved in the offense. Philadelphia didn't have a player among the top 35 in free throw attempts this season.

Game flow often dictates calls, as well. The Trail Blazers complained about the Mavericks' 19-2 advantage in free throws in the final quarter. They weren't complaining when Dirk Nowitzki didn't get to the line once in the first three quarters.

"I think it's all individually set up as to what type of team it is, what type of team you are," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "A team that does take outside shots, not a team that's a high volume of drivers that are going to get the line that often, as opposed to a Memphis team or a Miami team, whatever."

And it does make a difference where teams are playing. Didn't we already go through this last year, when the Lakers and Thunder were within four free throws of each other in the three playoff games in Los Angeles, but the Thunder enjoyed a 113-54 free throw advantage in the three games in Oklahoma City? Whether it was a young team energized by its home crowd or the visitors and officials intimated by all the noise, things were markedly different. And yet the Lakers still managed to close out the series in Game 6 on the road.

Road teams won three of the first eight playoff games so far this year. Good teams overcome any obstacle in their way, including location and bad calls.

Bad calls are going to happen. Expecting the officials to get through a game without missing a call is like expecting teams to go 48 minutes without a turnover.

The officials didn't need to blow the whistle when New York's Carmelo Anthony wrestled with Paul Pierce while trying to establish position well away from the basket. And they could have called Kevin Garnett for his subtle hip check on Toney Douglas that freed Ray Allen for the game-winning shot.

The Knicks also could have kept Garnett from getting an uncontested dunk off an inbounds lob pass with 37 seconds remaining. And Carmelo didn't have to force a 3-pointer against a double-team when the Knicks trailed by two points on their final possession.

It's similar to why the Nuggets have no business complaining about the missed offensive interference when Kendrick Perkins tapped in a Russell Westbrook jumper that was still in the cylinder. It happened with a minute remaining, enough time for the Nuggets to still pull out a victory if they had managed better shots than Raymond Felton's rushed 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. And the Nuggets could have been running out the clock with a comfortable lead if they had made more than 21 of their 33 free throws during the game.

One of David Stern's biggest regrets during his tenure as commissioner has been that he didn't do enough to quash the off-day coaching complaints about officials that became a huge part of the storyline during the Knicks-Bulls series in 1992 and has resurfaced ever since. He tried to stamp it out last year during the first round, all but telling everyone to shut up, then proclaiming: "And if someone wants to try me in the rest of these playoffs, you know, make my day. Because the game is too important and I don't think that the people who trash it are respecting it and we'll do what we have to do -- to players and coaches alike."

His reach doesn't extend to the fans and media, but I wish it did. Maybe he's been quiet so far because he doesn't want to come off as too much of a bully while knowing full well he's about to shut the league down with a lockout in 2½ months. That's the other lurking distraction to these playoffs. Try not to think about it. The games have been too good. Enjoy the view, and don't be concerned with the noise emanating from the nearby traffic.