Kevin Love sells the contact on the game's deciding play (David Sherman/ Getty).
Basketball fans often debate whether a particular player deserves to be called a true superstar. For the most part, these discussions cannot be resolved, if only because they depend on subjective opinions and a list of criteria that cannot be standardized. But if someone thinks a player deserves to reach that level and isn't, it's easy to identify how he's disrespected. Usually, it's that he doesn't get the calls that other, more popular players get.
On Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves believed that All-Star power forward Kevin Love served as one such victim. With the Wolves down 100-98 to the visiting Dallas Mavericks and just 3.0 seconds left in regulation, Ricky Rubio found Love on the left wing on the inbound pass. Love took one dribble to his left around the defending Shawn Marion and rose for a long jumper, but Marion broke up the play.
However, at both full speed and replays, it appeared that Marion made contact with Love's wrist. The Wolves star certainly sold the contact, but it was substantial, even if much of it involved legal touching of Love's hand on the ball. Nevertheless, neither of the two referees looking at the play blew his whistle, and the Mavericks came away with the victory.
The Wolves were not pleased with the non-call and voiced their displeasure to reporters after the game. From Jon Krawczynski for the Associated Press:
''Heh, heh. It was not a foul,'' Marion said. The Timberwolves disagreed.
''He got fouled,'' Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. ''I wonder what that would have been if (Dirk) Nowitzki, LeBron James, all the top players in the league - a guy reaches on a last-second shot like that, instead of challenging it. Maybe they don't understand that Kevin is one of the top five players in this league. You make that call. But they didn't.'' [...]
''I'm the type of person that if you see a foul, an obvious foul, you call it,'' Love said. ''And I thought that was pretty, pretty obvious. ... You look at the replay and it was obvious he got arm.''
Given standard NBA practice, both Adelman and Love can expect fines for criticizing the officiating. At the same time, the league may also announce that their complaints were warranted and say that a foul should have been called. While contact is often not called at the ends of games, it sure looks like Love gets hit on the wrist on this play.
The reason for the non-call is another story altogether. Adelman's comments suggest that Love doesn't get the credit he deserves, but very few players, no matter how well-regarded they may be, get foul calls in these situations. The more likely scenario is that the referees simply didn't make the call out of acceptable uncertainty — it's not a clear decision either way — or an aversion to making a game-deciding call. Conspiracy theorists would do well to remember that NBA officials are rarely competent enough to meet the standards required to build up a system that rewards superstars so often. For that matter, Love ranks among the league leaders in free-throw attempts. There is no covert plot to screw the player and/or franchise.
None of this will serve as comfort to the Wolves, who battled back from a 19-point first-half deficit and from seven points down in the closing three minutes. Love led their charge with a customarily gaudy line of 36 points (14-of-24 FG) and 12 rebounds, but Marion was the night's surprising star. His 32 points on 14-of-19 shooting marked his highest output since the 2008-09 season. The encounter with Love will get the headlines for good reason, but Marion helped decide the result of this game well before.
(Video via @cjzero)
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