Good news, Houston Rockets fans: If you thought that the referees botched the foul call that knocked Dwight Howard out of Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers late in overtime on Sunday, it turns out you were right! There is, however, some bad news: Your prize for being correct is absolutely, positively nothing but more frustration. (Please feel free to bring your nothing-but-more-frustration to the NBA league office in New York, where you can trade it in and redeem it for — you guessed it! — nothing but more frustration.)
NBA President of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn issued the following statement on Monday afternoon:
“After video review by the league office, we have determined that the officials were incorrect in assessing a foul to the Rockets’ Dwight Howard with 10.8 seconds remaining in overtime. The foul should have been called on the Blazers’ Joel Freeland and Howard should have been awarded two free throws.”
Here's the play in question:
So, wait a second, NBA — you're telling me that if an offensive player is running to the basket to try to get an offensive rebound, and a defensive player who is face-guarding him just plants his feet, wraps his arms around the offensive player and holds him in a Ken Patera-caliber bear hug to prevent him from securing the loose ball, that defensive player should be assessed a foul? Huh! You learn something new every day!
Not only did the incorrect foul call remove Howard from the game with his team trailing by one point and less than 11 seconds remaining in overtime — it also sent Freeland to the foul line for two shots to extend the Blazers' lead, rather than sending Howard to the line with a chance to tie the game or put Houston back in front. It's no sure thing that Howard would have cashed in on his rightful trip to the charity stripe — he missed eight of his 17 free-throw attempts on Sunday, as the Blazers went to the "Hack-a-Howard" intentional foul strategy and the All-Star big man couldn't make them pay — but if nothing else, I'm betting Kevin McHale would've liked being able to avoid giving Portland the ball back with a chance to extend their advantage in the final 11 seconds.
As it turned out, Freeland made one of two freebies, James Harden's final-second attempt to tie came up short, and the Blazers scored a 122-120 overtime victory to take a 1-0 lead over the Rockets in their best-of-seven first-round series and snatch home-court advantage away from Houston, putting the Rockets in need of a big comeback performance in Game 2. Howard finished with 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in 34 minutes of work.
The Blazers came back from a 10-point deficit late in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to brilliant play from All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge (who finished with a Portland franchise-playoff-record 46 points and and 18 rebounds) and Damian Lillard (who wound up with 31 points, nine rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in nearly 46 minutes of action in his postseason debut), but in those closing seconds of regulation, it was little-known British big man Freeland — who logged just 47 seconds of playing time — whose impact was felt the most.
“It wasn’t an easy situation,” Freeland said Monday, according to Mike Tokito of The Oregonian. “I’ve been sitting for like three hours, watching the game. But I was into the game, so it wasn’t that hard of a transition. I went in and I did what I had to do. I knew what I had to do was keep Dwight off the boards if possible and just try to play as solid as possible, and I did that.”
Well, you certainly did keep Dwight off the boards, Joel. And, if I may make another wrestling reference, as noted philosopher Bobby "The Brain" Heenan used said, "It's not cheating if you don't get caught." (Or, I suppose, even if you get caught the next day.)
Thorn's day-after mea culpa was the second announcement of this postseason acknowledging a missed call. The first came Sunday, when the league announced that officials had missed a call late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the best-of-seven series between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday afternoon. Warriors forward Draymond Green should have been whistled for a personal foul for reaching in and making contact with Clippers point guard Chris Paul with 18.9 seconds left. Had the foul been properly called, Paul would have gone to the free-throw line, down 107-105, with a chance to tie the game. Instead, the foul went uncalled, the ball went out of bounds off Paul, and Golden State gained possession. The Warriors wound up holding on for a 109-105 Game 1 victory at Staples Center.
After the game, Paul and Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that L.A. still had opportunities to win the game, but did note that it was a big call. Green, for his part, said he didn't really get why the league's going to the trouble of increased after-the-fact transparency, since it doesn't really amount to much of anything.
"The game is determined now," Green said after the game, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears. "I'm not sure what anyone really gets out of it. I would say the same thing if it weren't in our favor. I probably would be more upset if it went the other way because there is nothing you can do about it now. I'm not sure what anyone gets out of it."
There are probably a lot of fans in Houston and Portland that agree with you, Draymond.
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