It’s the age-old, cop-out excuse for why your favorite team lost the game — the refs were awful. If you are a sports fan, you’ve probably heard it at some point in your life. But in the case of the NBA, it’s more than just pure hyperbole. Case in point: last night’s game between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat.
It was, by all accounts, an incredibly entertaining basketball game. The Pacers were able to pick up a huge victory, holding off the Heat 84 to 83 and adding another game to their lead in the Eastern Conference. It’s official: this is the best rivalry in the game right now. There is no rivalry that can even compete, especially with teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics treading water in an ocean of mediocrity. These two teams absolutely hate each other, and that is why frustrations often boil over between the two.
It started midway through the third quarter. Lance Stephenson, in the midst of fighting for a loose ball, held Mario Chalmers but got away with the foul. Dwyane Wade, clearly not a fan of the officials missing the call, went over to Stephenson and shoved him for no apparent reason. A double-technical foul was called on Wade and Stephenson, and all appeared to be right with the world. Here’s the thing; Stephenson, other than giving a justifiable glare in Wade’s direction, made no effort to retaliate. It was a mistake on the officials’ part to T him up, and it would come back to haunt the Pacers later in the game.
During the fourth quarter, tensions were elevated yet again. Stephenson made a nice cut to the basket and finished a layup, bringing fans to their feet. As he got up, his feet tangled with Chalmers and he stumbled forward. As he was doing this, his eyes locked with Wade. After noticing Wade’s scowl, Stephenson mouthed a one-word question that was apparently enough to get him tossed: “What?” The officials, at first, looked like they would simply let it go, but after some convincing lobbying from Wade and the Heat bench, they gave Stephenson his second technical foul.
There is no other way to put it; the officiating last night was comically poor, and both teams were negatively affected by it. Earlier in the game, Wade took a desperation three from the corner with the shot clock expiring, and he nailed it. The officials waved it off and said that Wade was out of bounds. He was not. LeBron James was called for a flagrant foul for elbowing Roy Hibbert in the face while driving to the basket, but Ian Mahinmi tackled James earlier in the game in a similar situation and was not called for a flagrant. Flopping is clearly still an issue, and officials are still falling for it. LeBron, Stephenson, Paul George and Hibbert were all guilty of it at some point in last night’s game, and Wade does it on just about every shot attempt. You would think the officials would have a grasp on the flopping dilemma by now, especially considering the NBA’s increased emphasis on it.
Despite all of these egregious calls, the Stephenson ejection is the clear standout. Not only were the two technical fouls questionable at best, but not giving a similar penalty to Wade for baiting Stephenson into the techs is inexcusable. Fans all over social media were berating the officials, and everyone is showing clear signs that they are fed up with the status quo. Look, there is no use crying over spilled milk, but when it is spilt night in and night out, you have to take a long look at who’s pouring it. The NBA is a multi-billion dollar establishment; surely it can do better than this.
Stephenson deserves a lot of the blame here. He should not have put himself in that situation and cannot do so in the future if the Pacers want to win a title. But the actions of the referees throughout last night’s game, and especially during the Stephenson snafu, represented a more disturbing trend in today’s NBA. The quality of the officiating has been trending downhill, and casual fans are noticing and being driven away. It is only a matter of time before it reaches rock bottom, and hopefully it’s already there.