Home court advantage is a given. In the playoffs, it’s closer to a birth right. It always makes a difference. When a team wins a few championships, that advantage becomes even more recognizable. Referees can’t help but treat entire teams and specific players differently based on their defensive reputations. Good defensive teams often have home court advantage in the playoffs. The calls are often close to 50-50, and the plays are rarely indisputable. I understand this. I understand how much the Boston Celtics have benefited from these facts over the decades. Yes, it can be tiresome to hear about how the referees impacted a game. Still…
Anyone who watched Game 4 of the Heat-Pacers as a relatively neutral observer might have noticed something: the referees were not consistent. On my completely subjective referee scale of 1-10 (“1” being the way refs treat a rookie center and “10” being the way refs treat Kobe/Durant/Wade/LeBron), the Heat were treated to a score of 9, while the Pacers were given something like a 2. This is not to say the Pacers would have definitively won Game 4 if the game were called with greater neutrality, but it is to say that the game would have been tight. In any home playoff game for a defending champ, you’ll probably see a 7. You hope it’s not as bad as an 8, and you certainly hope to avoid the 9. A 10? That would be the way the refs treated Dwyane Wade in the 2006 NBA Finals, when he attempted 14 or more free-throws in 4 of the 6 games, topping out at 25 attempts in Game 5.
The total free-throw count for Game 4 of the 2014 ECF was telling. Miami shot 34 free-throws to Indiana’s 17. The foul count was telling: Indiana committed 27 fouls to Miami’s 17.
Chris Bosh went into Game 4 having shot a grand total of 21 free-throws over Miami’s 12 playoff games. He took 10 free-throws last night. The last time Bosh attempted 10 free-throws in a Heat playoff game: May 6, 2011. To be fair, Chris Anderson’s injury forced Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to play Bosh at the center position, where he matched up with Roy Hibbert, stretching Hibbert all the way out to the corner and then giving Bosh room to attack the rim. Still, to say Bosh got the benefit of the doubt would be an understatement. To his credit, Bosh was draining jumpers from the opening tip.
Aside from Bosh, there were a few calls on Hibbert and Stephenson that were highly questionable. There were several Paul George drives in which contact was made, but the 50-50 call went Miami’s way. None of it is shocking. Because most NBA fans want to see Miami in the Finals (the Pacers offense is rarely so fluid as it was in Game 1 and sometimes barely watchable), the talk of uneven officiating will be muted. There was one play that stood out to me:
Udonis Haslem was “guarding” David West. West was making a cut to the corner. Before he received the pass, Haslem’s arms were surrounding West’s torso, hugging his hip. West managed to disentangle himself, but his balance was so thrown off when he released the corner 17-footer, the ball fell two feet short of the rim. Air ball. On the slow-motion replay, the cameras caught the harrassment that came prior to West receiving the pass, but ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy (who has been known to abhor referees for blowing the whistle unless blood is evident) claimed that there wasn’t any contact. And he was right…there wasn’t any contact on the shot. There didn’t need to be. Haslem was guarding West the way centers bang in the paint. That kind of physicality isn’t usually allowed at 15-20 feet from the rim, but it was. Why? Maybe that baseline ref just missed it. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that the game was played in Miami, and the player in question wasn’t Dwyane Wade or LeBron James.
Feel free to tell me I’m crazy and that Miami just played spectacular defense. Maybe they did. Maybe I just wanted the Pacers to keep the game closer and for Roy Hibbert to show up and Paul George and Lance Stephenson to get to the line. As much as I try to be neutral, I know I’m not.
LeBron Up, Hibbert Down
It’s not exactly news, but LeBron James is awesome and Roy Hibbert is unpredictable and foul-prone. LeBron’s 32/10/5 came on only 21 shots. The fact that LeBron turned it over only two times despite having the ball in his hands pretty much every possession except for those in which Miami isolated Bosh is crazy. LeBron no longer takes many shots. He picks his spots more carefully than he used to, using his precision passing to bend the defense and find Norris Cole, Wade, and Allen. Only twice in Miami’s 13 playoff games, has James attempted 20 shots. Despite taking only 17.5 shots per game in the playoffs, James is averaging 28.8 points per game, to go with the low turnover rate (2.8 per game). This is called efficiency and it is what makes Miami so tough to beat.
How do you neutralize the Pacers? Get behemoth center Roy Hibbert in foul trouble.
Again, not exactly news, but when Roy Hibbert gets whistled for early fouls, the Pacers go from being a relatively balanced offense to a hope-for-the-best Lance Stephenson pick-and-roll team or isolation Paul George sets. Without Hibbert doing damage on the post, the Pacers stall. With Chris Anderson off the floor, Hibbert was forced to defend Bosh on the perimeter. This didn’t work out well. Theoretically, Hibbert could do damage on the post against the much smaller Bosh. Instead, the Pacers couldn’t get him the damn ball. Unlike the supremely athletic Blake Griffin, Hibbert’s lumbering 7’2″ frame makes it tough to create post position. We saw the Atlanta Hawks negate Hibbert’s potential impact by stretching the floor as much as its possible to be stretched, taking over 40 three-pointers in Game 7. We saw the Wizards get Hibbert in foul trouble in their wins (especially Games 1 and 5). We’ve also seen Hibbert score in double figures in 7 of the last 8 Pacers playoff games, unleashing 28 on the Wizards in Game 2 of their second round series, and 19 on the Heat in Game 1 of the Conference Finals. Without that version of Hibbert, the Pacers can’t get Miami in foul trouble, they can’t create space for West and George, and quite frankly, they can’t beat Miami.