Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Squeaky Wheel Got the Grease, But It's Going to Fall Off: The End of the Road for the Pacers

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease: that's what my grandmother always told me when I was growing up, and she certainly led by example. However, the important point she taught me was that you shouldn't abuse the opportunity to "squeak." Paul George and the Indiana Pacers did just that by complaining about the foul differential about the Heat in their post-game press conferences after Game 4. That wasn't the reason you guys got blown out, Paul, and there were really only one or two bad calls that didn't change the game meaningfully at all.

To be clear, the reason the Heat fouled way less than the Pacers was because they played with much more intensity, effort, focus, and just general crispness. I know it's a popular trope to say that LeBron gets superstar calls, and he does sometimes; however, far more often, LeBron doesn't get the same kind of touch fouls or other types of loose ball or open court fouls that other players (far less "superstar" caliber players) get. Kevin Durant seems to get a heck of a lot more calls than LeBron, especially on his drives. This is because Durant is simply less of a physical presence, and so fouls look worse against him. LeBron is such an athletic freak that some of those touch fouls barely bother him or alter the course of a shot; but, when the tables are turned, those touch fouls go against LeBron.

Four out of the five fouls called against LeBron were absolutely egregious:

After watching the referees needlessly ruin Game 5 with terrible foul calls against LeBron, it's pretty clear that there must have been some motivation to rectify the foul disparity at any cost. Once LeBron picked up his third foul and had to sit out a large portion of the first half, the refs relentlessly continued calling stupid fouls against him. The charge call against Paul George who literally was on one leg having leaped in front of LeBron off-balance is a textbook blocking foul in that scenario. Meanwhile, with the Pacers only even somewhat successful strategy (publicly and privately) being to frustrate LeBron with Stephenson's childish antics, the refs chose not to call obvious flops by Stephenson (especially after the 5th foul was called):

How this play wasn't called a flop is crazy to me; Stephenson should have been given at least three technical fouls over the course of the game and been ejected after the second, but that didn't happen. The NBA needs to send a message that such antics will not be tolerated because all it does is tarnish the brand and product that they are putting on the court. (Yes, Heat players have been guilty of flopping at times too, but nothing this terrible and this persistent accompanied by other childish antics). At very least, Stephenson needs to be fined twice for this game, and should possibly even be suspended for a game (and might be if this were not the postseason or if Frank Vogel had any control over his team). Maybe in his game off, he can fly to New York and practice tying his shoes with JR Smith while they blow in each other's ears.

Heat fans are certainly not going to get any sympathy about calls, but that narrative is backwards and broken. LeBron is hurt by the things that make him a superstar (his athleticism, speed, and size) more than the fringe benefits of being a superstar (getting "superstar" calls). At crucial times, he doesn't get the calls that a "superstar" would get. That would be OK normally, but there's been a huge overcorrection and overcompensation for his perceived superstar treatment. Time to get back to reality, Ed Malloy and company...