Anthony Edwards was incensed after his essentially game-clinching throwdown that put the Timberwolves up by four points with a minute to play against the Thunder in Monday night’s game in Oklahoma City.
Never mind the dunk in which Edwards drove down broadway and hammered down the nail in the Thunder’s coffin. Edwards was focused on what didn’t happen in the immediate aftermath — a foul call.
Indeed, replays showed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander caught Edwards on the elbow during his dunk, and the infraction went uncalled. In its last two-minute report filed Tuesday afternoon, the NBA confirmed the no-call to be correct, saying, “Gilgeous-Alexander brings his hand towards Edwards’ (MIN) arm, and the contact during the shot near the rim is marginal.”
That seemed to be the play that sent Edwards over the edge. To his credit, he kept those frustrations bottled up until the final buzzer sounded. But once that occurred, he was airing his grievances to anyone who could hear him. With a camera planted on his face as he celebrated with his teammates, Edwards clearly said, “cheating (expletive) refs.”
He then opened his on-court interview with Bally Sports North, in which he was asked how the Wolves pulled off the victory, by saying: “I don’t know. And I’m going to take the fine, because the refs did not give us no calls tonight. We had to play through every bump, every grab. I don’t know how we won tonight.”
Hey, those comments can happen in the heat of the moment. Edwards was mere moments removed from the battle. But he expanded upon the sentiments in the locker room when chatting with ESPN.
“The refs was bad tonight. Yeah, they was terrible,” Edwards told ESPN. “We was playing 8-on-5. … The cat got their tongue tonight, so it’s all good. It’s not fair, but it’s all good.”
Edwards went on to say he hasn’t earned the respect of NBA officials yet. He said he got fouled multiple times Monday, and when he approached the refs asking them to watch for certain things, they would shake him off.
“And then soon somebody come down from their team and get bumped, it’s a foul,” Edwards told ESPN. “So I just feel like it wasn’t a fair game tonight from the jump. And so that’s why I’m super happy we won the game.”
Edwards’ grievances with officials are nothing new. His seven technical fouls this season are tied for 10th most in the NBA. He often displays his frustration mid-game, shouting or clapping at officials when he feels he doesn’t get a call.
But to say Edwards hasn’t earned the respect of officials can be a little misleading. Over the past two months, Edwards is shooting 6.6 free throws per game, 11th most in the NBA. The difference between Edwards and the No. 5-10 guys is marginal.
The true separation lies between the top four free-throw attempters — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander. They’re all above 10 attempts from the charity stripe per game. Beyond them, Edwards gets as good of a whistle as anyone else.
But why do those guys get more calls? Clout is often thought to be the determining factor. But if that were the case, LeBron James would lead the NBA in free-throw attempts each season, something he actually has never done. Nikola Jokic, widely accepted as the best player in basketball, often finishes the game with more scratches on his arm than attempts from the line.
The thing that ties the top four foul drawers together is their style of play. It’s slow, methodical and deliberate. They take their time and prod defenders until the man in front of them gets out of legal guarding position, then they attack in a way that draws contact.
It may not look like much, but it often is a foul by the letter of the law. And because it played out so slowly in front of the ref, it’s almost always seen, and almost always gets called.
Another example of that came in the 2008-09 season, when Kevin Martin — one of the funkiest offensive players in recent memory — averaged the second-most free-throws in the NBA while playing for a horrible Kings team.
Contrast that to Edwards, who cuts down the lane like a Maserati. His entire drive may take all of one second. You blink and he’s gone from the top of the arc to the bucket. Did he get fouled on the drive? Maybe. But it’s tough to know for sure.
“Some of these plays with Anthony, in particular, are very explosive, and maybe they happened quite fast, and they’re not sure exactly what they saw,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch told Paul Allen during his weekly radio appearance on KFXN-100.3 on Tuesday. “One of the things that they’ll often tell you is, ‘If I can’t see it, and I don’t know 100 percent, then I’m not going to call it.’ ”
Explosive players don’t seem to get as many calls. Bulls guard Derrick Rose didn’t during his Most Valuable Player season, either.
Frankly, Edwards’ dunk wasn’t bothered by any contact from Gilgeuous-Alexander, which makes it more difficult for officials to gauge whether a foul occurred.
“I think they’re very trained in looking for certain things now. The referees are kind of looking at the game through a certain filter, which is the way that they’re graded and judged. So I understand that,” Finch said. “I think one thing that’s important to recognize about the officiating in the NBA is it’s still the best in the world. These guys take their job very seriously. I know they’re not trying to miss calls. I 100 percent believe that.
“They’re very well-trained professionals, but there’s a lot of new, young referees in the league. We’ve seen a bunch of older, experienced referees retire in the last four or five years, and they’re trying to replenish the troops with that experience, and it’s just a bit of growing pain we have to go through as a league. But hopefully we get to a point where the consistency is at the highest level and maybe the best ever.”
Everyone is in the midst of a learning curve at the moment, from the officials to Edwards himself. And the number of calls Edwards gets is certainly growing. According to Cleaning The Glass, Edwards draws foul calls on 15 percent of his shot attempts, just a tick lower than the 16.1 percent Gilgeous-Alexander draws.
“(Edwards) gets hit a lot, and he lets them know every single time. And I told him, ‘Hey, maybe not every time. Just play. You’re a great player, you’re going to have a lot of physicality and there’s going to be a lot of calls they don’t get. Michael Jordan didn’t get a call every single time he went to the hoop,’” Finch told Allen.
“But, I do feel like he gets hit a lot more, particularly when you look at the way the game is officiated around some players. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a great example of that. He has the ball in his hands a ton, and there’s a lot of contact around him. But the level of contact doesn’t always rise to a foul, but yet he seemingly shoots 15 free throws a night. These are hard things for players to understand at times, especially when they’re out there trying to guard on one end, and not being rewarded on the other. But it’s a tough game, it’s a fast game, and these people are doing the best job they can.”