With the Spurs and Lakers both dropping Game One at home on Sunday, the story of the first round is already clear: anyone can lose homecourt advantage in 2011. Unfortunately, there’s a far less talked about story that had a major impact on three Game One contests over the weekend. That is the one-sided reffing that resulted in close, come-from-behind wins for three of the higher ranked squads. And when I say one-sided, I mean free throw attempt counts for one squad that doubled or nearly doubled those for the opponents. Whenever this occurs and the beneficiary just happens to be star players and their teams that are supposed to win, diligent fans have to at least take a look at what took place.
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Indiana Pacers
The Bulls made a valiant comeback with some great last minute heroics after the hot-shooting Pacers went cold at the very end. Derrick Rose’s 39 points and nifty moves all over the place to get to the rim, not to mention 3 blocked shots, made headlines and were pointed to as the catalyst to a Bulls win. Yeah, that and the refs ushering Rose to the line anytime he got spinning near a defender in the lane. Rose’s 10-for-23 shooting (43%, same as the rest of his team), including 0-for-9 from deep, wasn’t noteworthy, nor was his ho-hum 6-3 assist-turnover rate. But he did get to shoot 21 free throws, which was four more than the Pacers’ 17. Rose appeared to be protected by the refs at times, earning free throws after numerous shoulda-been charges and touch fouls that never would have been called for someone who wasn’t about to win the MVP award. Overall, the Bulls shot 32 free throws, 88% more than the visiting Pacers.
How out of place? During the season, Chicago shot 24.5 FTA/gm (11th most in league) and surrendered 23.1 (23rd most). Indiana shot 24.8 (10th) and surrendered 26.3 (8th). You would expect the Bulls to get more freebies than the Pacers throughout this series, but a 32-17 discrepancy does seem way out of whack, especially when one superstar who averaged less than 7 per game during the season gets more than the entire opposing team in a close win. His highest total during the year was 21, also against the Pacers (in a loss), but his other three games against Indy earned him only 3, 5, and 3 free throw attempts.
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Philadelphia 76ers
Philly’s length and athleticism was expected to give any first round opponent fits, and for large chunks of Game One against the Heat, it did. After keeping the Heat off the free throw line for all but 3 attempts in the first quarter (1 of which was for illegal defense) on the way to a 31-19 lead, the second quarter was all star treatment. Starting with their second possession of the period, 5 consecutive Miami possessions ended with the home team at the free throw line, including a patented LeBron run-away-train-shoulder-block-charge on a breakaway that inexplicably got him to the stripe. LeBron and Wade each went to the line for 3 more freebies before halftime, helping give the Heat a lead they never relinquished. For the game, Miami enjoyed a preposterous 39-15 free throw discrepancy. James shot 14, Bosh 11, and Wade 8 – the trio’s 33 alone more than doubling the Sixers’ collective team attempts for the contest. And make sure you watch Wade kicking Thaddeus Young near the end of the game, of course earning Wade a trip to the line.
How out of place? During the season, the Heat shot 27.9 FTA/gm (3rd most) and surrendered 24.1 (14th). The Sixers shot 22.5 (26th) and surrendered 24.2 (13th). We’ve all seen the Heat get all the calls all year, but this discrepancy in a tight, 8-point win was still way out of place. If the refs continue to allow LeBron and Wade to run defenders down and over and reward them with free throws, Philly has no chance.
#3 Dallas Mavericks vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers
This one may actually have been the worst display of one-sided refereeing in all the Game Ones. A big part of that is because the two sides were extremely similar in their habits during the year (we’ll get to that in a minute), but a 29-13 advantage is pretty extreme no matter what the context. No other team shot as few free throws throughout the weekend as the Blazers, but the real shocker is that Dallas outshot Portland 19-2 in the final quarter of a back-and-forth game that was even closer than the final 89-81 score indicated. Fourth quarter one-sidedness like that from the refs hasn’t been seen since Game 7 of last year’s Finals (LA: 21, Bos: 7), and Blazers coach Nate McMillan nailed it with his comments: “A lot of touch fouls and I thought that (gave them) momentum and pretty much gave them control of the game in the fourth quarter. This game was pretty much decided at the line in the fourth quarter." As is the NBA’s way, he’ll get fined for telling the truth, but hopefully he brought some attention to the ridiculousness that was the officiating in Game One. Dirk Nowitzki shot 13 free throws, as many as the visiting Blazers.
How out of place? The context of all this is where Dallas’ 123% more free throw attempts starts to look even fishier. During the season, Dallas shot 22.6 FTA/gm (27th most) and surrendered 22.3 (26th). Quite similarly, Portland shot 22.4 (28th) and surrendered 22.8 (25th). In three games against the Blazers this year, Dirk never shot more than 9 free throws, and that amount came against 23 from Portland just one month ago. Something doesn’t add up, and hopefully McMillan’s soon-to-be-fined comments help straighten things out.