Tuesday, May 3, 2016

"Letting them Play": Officiating the Last Seconds of an NBA Game

Officiating an NBA game is hard.

Heck, officiating any sort of organized sport is pretty difficult. Someone is probably going walk away from some play unhappy. At some point in time during the game there will be a guy that thinks the dude with a whistle is an idiot.

The NBA game of basketball moves so quickly that it's difficult to get all the plays. Invariably, something gets missed. Yet there are rules to the game for a reason. I'm not advocating we become hidebound and call every single rule, but I think the whole concept of "letting them play", especially in late game situations is, well, frankly kind of dumb. You undermine yourself.

I don't claim to be a basketball genius, in fact, I probably know less about the rules than some of you think I do. Yet throughout my time following the NBA, there has always been this sentiment that in late game situations the refs should "swallow their whistles" and just "let them play". To that, I say, that's stupid.

I've thought about this for a while but I decided to write about it in light of the crazy final possession of the Spurs-Thunder Game 2 of the Western Conference Semi-finals. A lot of stuff happened there. The NBA came out and said Waiters should of been called for an offensive foul, people pointing out that Leonard grabbed Westbrook's jersey, Manu stepped on the line, Ibaka fouling every Spur under the basket at once, Waiters jumping on the inbound, some lady in the front row grabbing Adams (after he plows into her). It was ugly, and it was messy, and certainly while the officiating impacted the outcome of the game to a certain degree, the Spurs all understood it's their own fault that they were in that position to begin with.

To be honest, I've been pretty upset with generally inconsistent officiating in general, particularly in the playoffs. I kind of understand Rick Carlisle's statement that the Thunder make "non-basketball physical escalations". I recall watching Game 1 and seeing Russell Westbrook wrap his arms around Danny Green after not getting a rebound and physical push/hoist him out of bounds, it was a common foul. In a subsequent play David West and Enes Kanter were fighting for rebounding position and West threw Kanter off him onto the floor, David West was awarded a technical foul. Strange to me.

Yet that's not what I'm looking at either. This whole concept of "letting them play" is this old-school concept of trying to be tougher, yet what's the purpose of the rules if not to define the boundaries of the game. Look, I understand that officiating is often times a judgment call, there's a fine line between a foul and a physical play, and generally, I think the officiating crew does the best job they can. However, when people tell the officials to "let them play" I think that just undermines the whole concept of an organized sport. I get that nobody wants to see long periods of stoppage of play where refs are reviewing to make sure the call is right, but if the game is on the line, it's kind of important.

Oftentimes, when I'm attending an event or meeting, people will wait for stragglers or the habitually late to show up before starting. They're being "considerate". Which I get to some degree, but then it begs the question, why are you punishing the people who actually showed up when you asked them to? Similarly, not calling fouls just because "it's the end of a game" is essentially punishing a team for playing by the rules. It sends the message, it's in my favor to cheat or break the rules because the refs aren't going to call it anyways.

So refs. You see a foul, blow your whistle. That's your job.

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