San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich walks towards the podium for his post-game press conference after defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of the NBA Playoffs’ first round and stares wide-eyed at the cameras and his audience of media members desperately hoping that their question would be worthy of a thoughtful answer.
Was the teams’ experience big in the forth quarter? “I don’t know how to prove that or figure it out,” he replied.
Biggest play of the fourth quarter was … “I haven’t really thought about it.”
How about the Los Angeles Clippers shooting 1-for-14 from the three-point line? Surely that was your doing. “We didn’t do that.”
How do you describe the win? Six Spurs scored double digits. “I don’t know how you describe a win. It’s better than a loss.”
It may seem like a winning head coach answering generic clich√© sports questions in a jackass matter, but really it was Ole Pop not having an exact idea of the one element that had the greatest impact on their Game 5 victory on Tuesday.
Or maybe he does and can’t really say it, because the subjectivity of the officiating heavily favored them.
Nearly every movement and action in sports such as football and baseball is done in an arbitrary matter, which allows the officiating to be guided by the strict letter of the law. Basketball is different because with the free flowing nature of the game, the officiating of it is subjective strictly based on one’s interpretation of the action in question. Reviewing the call only gives their subjectivity a second chance.
In Game 5, the flow of the subjective officiating swirled around the Spurs, even though they were the visiting team. When each possession seemed identical, the Clippers would always get the whistle for the foul yet everything would be honky dory on the Spurs’ end.
“I don’t complain much,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “I thought we got some really tough calls tonight, some brutal calls. The travel on Blake [Griffin], the goal-tend on Matt [Barnes], which wasn’t a goal-tend; you think about the playoffs and they’re single-possession games. Those possessions, those were crucial. J.J. [Redick]’s foul that got him out, J.J. didn’t touch anyone. It’s not why we lost, but those were big plays for us.”
The main purpose of home-court advantage is not the roar of the crowd that may sound a lot better than the lame music every NBA arena blasts at every turn. The main purpose is actually the subjectivity of the officiating flowing towards the home team. It’s like the refs forgot who the home team was on Tuesday.
“I don’t know, it’s just — listen, the refs are trying hard, too, but God darn,” Rivers said. “Even [Chris Paul]’s tech, I still don’t have the explanation for that, and I want to find that out because when they make a shot, you have to throw it to the ref to get the ball back, and he got a tech for it. I’m just not sure of some things.”
The Clippers players did not want to suffer the same fate as Rivers, who was fined $25,000 for talking about the ridiculous calls made by the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Bill Kennedy and Josh Tiven. The NBA commissioner has cultivated an environment where no one can publicly question the subjectivity of the ref’s officiating without punishment. We in the media will ask anyway and summon the spirit of the commissioner to swoop around and put a gun to the wallet of the coach and pull the trigger if they so decide to speak out on the injustice.
“I’ve got a team in there that played their heart out, and they’re frustrated a little bit,” Rivers said. “They’re frustrated at themselves, because at the end of the day it’s always our fault. But they’re frustrated at other stuff, too, and in a game like that with that magnitude, there should be no frustration that way at all.”
As the series returns to San Antonio for what might be the finale of the Clippers’ season, the officiating subjectivity goes with it. Will it continue to breathe life into the Spurs?
Tony Capobianco started the SMDP column “Cap Space” just in time for the 2014-15 Clippers season. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.