Tag Archives: Isaiah Thomas

More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 2: Wizards-Celtics in Boston, throwing the rule book out the window

Note: The initial post on referee Marc Davis began with the Raptors-Bucks game April 27 and, after Davis was promoted into the semifinals officials pool, was extended to include analysis of the officiating in Davis’ next few games along with his trends in recent seasons.  The next game Davis worked after the Bucks elimination was Game 2 of the Wizards-Celtics series, May 2 in Boston. For reference purposes, and because the original writing/notes were buried down at the bottom of “More than a Slap on the Wrist (Part 1)”, I’ve created a separate post here to put this game in better focus.

Davis was crew chief for Game 2 in Boston, with Rodney Mott and Tom Washington the other two officials. He wasted little time provoking the Boston crowd when, just 1:07 seconds after the opening tip, Wizards power forward Markieff Morris flung Al Horford into the photographers row along the baseline. Morris was retaliating for a play in Game 1 where he sprained an ankle shooting a jump shot over Horford, who slid underneath Morris as he shot. Though Morris had, well, thrown Horford into the stands, a technical (flagrant) foul was not issued on the play.

The Celtics play a rough brand of basketball, and have a couple of players in their rotation who might make good NFL tight ends or pass-rushing outside linebackers (Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart). They use their power to create advantage, intimidate and bully, and tend to get away with it. When they’re not getting away with it, they’re still wearing down the opposition.

The Wizards are also a rugged team, and the Atlanta Hawks complained in their Round 1 series that the Wiz were “playing MMA.” The Celtics and Wizards didn’t like each other before the playoffs, both sides admitted, and they’re going to like each other even less when this series is done.  The tricky task of the officials is to keep the rivalry under control while ensuring that the fouls and penalties don’t unfairly disadvantage one side or the other. Leniency was thus a reasonable approach once Horford picked himself up and tempers cooled down.

That said, a technical foul (flagrant 1) was the best Morris might’ve hoped for when he threw Horford into the baseline area. Davis, however, decided to disregard the rule book altogether and charge Morris with only a loose ball foul. The standard for a flagrant foul {1) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary”, and what Morris did was certainly that (ref: Official Rules pg. 46). A flagrant foul (2) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive”, and Morris probably did that too. A flagrant foul (2) results in the offender’s ejection from the game.

Davis had apparently decided he wasn’t going to throw anybody out of the game just yet, and didn’t feel obliged to award Boston the two free throws they had coming under the flagrant (1) rule, either. Instead of getting those, Boston on the very next possession was called for an offensive foul on Amir Johnson. Davis made that call too, denying the Celtics two free throws and a possession after their center had been tossed around like a … like a very large person being thrown into a bunch of unsuspecting photographers.

Bad officiating? Of course it was, and perhaps part of a visitors vs. home team trend with Davis. This season the visitors won 54% of the games Davis worked. Visitors have won more than the league average in Davis’ games 10 of the last 14 seasons. The Wizards were the visitors in Boston, Game 2.

The fans in Boston, where even the obvious calls against their Celtics are booed, were outraged. Davis had managed, just over a minute into the game, to incite the wrath of the home crowd. He had managed this in his previous game, in Milwaukee, but it took him the better part of a quarter to set anybody off, and until the 4th quarter to bring the building down. The early occasion set an aggressive, angry tone for the evening. There would be 50 personal fouls called in this game, 29 on the Wizards. The Celtics would go on to win in overtime in dramatic fashion and take a 2-0 lead in the series, with Isaiah Thomas scorching the nets to score 53 points on his late sister’s birthday.

Here’s how those 50 fouls, plus two technical fouls, broke down by official who called them:

Sources: NBA Official and NBA.com, official game play-by-play.

If official Tom Washington’s 12 to 5 foul disparity in favor of the Celtics doesn’t jump out at you, the fact that he called only two on the Celtics after the 1st quarter should. Home teams won 65% of the games Washington refereed this season (13% above the league avg., and he tends to call more fouls than avg.) The quarter ended with Wizards ahead 42-29, a lead that didn’t last as the refs unleashed their whistles on the Wizards bench in the 2nd quarter.

  • Davis called fewer personal fouls than Mott or Washington, and only 16 for the game. This is part of the trend that emerges with Davis over the last six seasons. Davis calls fewer fouls than the average official. Over the last three seasons about 2.6 fewer fouls per game were called in games Davis worked.
  • The per game average this season was about 40 fouls per game, meaning that even the official who made the least calls in this game (Davis) called more fouls than he typically does, adjusting for the extra five minutes of the overtime.
  • Mott was fairly balanced with his calls, just as he was in Milwaukee.
  • Nine fouls were called on the Wizards in the 2nd quarter, as all three officials unleashed their whistles on the Washington bench.
  • Six personal fouls vs. the Wizards in the 3rd quarter, only 2 on Boston, making the 2nd-3rd quarter foul disparity 15-6 in favor of Boston. (The Wizards were ahead by 14 mid-quarter and were threatening to blow the game open.)
  • Davis called a double technical on Thomas and Morris after the two former Suns teammates confronted each other. Had Davis issued Morris a flagrant (1) technical foul in the 1st quarter, Morris would have been ejected from the game with this second T.
  • Mott made the shooting foul call on Wizards center Marcin Gortat that sent Thomas to the line to tie the game with 14 seconds left in regulation. This was a highly questionable call.

There were factors not related to the officials that prevented the Wizards from putting Game 2 out of Boston’s reach. They went cold from the outside in the 3rd quarter after building a 14-point lead. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal had a horrific game (4-15 shooting, 6 turnovers). Washington also had opportunities on the last possession of regulation to win it, but Beal and John Wall misfired on open looks, setting up Thomas’ heroics in the overtime. The Celtics’ little big man (53 points!) earned this win.

But it’s fairly obvious to say that the refs helped keep Boston in the game, given 3rd official Washington’s 12-5 disparity in foul calls, and the overall 15-6 foul count against the Wizards over the 2nd and 3rd quarters. This wasn’t lost on Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who tried after the game to remain benignly vague when approaching the taboo subject of the refs, but didn’t quite succeed. Brooks ended his post-game interview session abruptly after the following comments.

“We had a couple of leads, 14 and I think a 10 or 12 point lead, and things changed,” Brooks said. “My job is not to referee the game, my job is to coach, and sometimes I struggle doing that. It’s a tough job. And our players gotta play. We have to be able to control the game, and (he paused) it’s not our job to do that.”

Davis served as a counter-veiling influence to referee Washington, mainly through his handling of Morris. The Wizards’ power forward, coming off a sprained ankle in Game 1, played just 26 minutes due to foul trouble but had a stabilizing impact for the Wizards on the court, scoring an efficient 16 points. Not calling the first technical on Morris was a boon for the Wizards, compliments of Davis in the face of a hostile Boston crowd, part of his modus operandi in this year’s playoffs.

But with Mott making the big call to send Thomas to the line in the final seconds to send it into overtime, this game became a reminder that it’s difficult for any one ref to engineer an outcome when there are two other officials on the court.

Note: Davis has worked one game since this May 2 game, the Rockets loss at home to the Spurs May 5 in Game 3 of that series. The Washington-Boston series is currently tied 2-2, with Game 5 about to tip off Wednesday, May 10. Davis has not been assigned to work a game, even as an alternate, since May 5 in Houston.

 Source list:

  • Official Rules, NBA 2016-17: https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/2016-2017-Rule-Book-Final.pdf
  • Official game play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/pbp
  • Wizards-Celtics Box score, 05/02/17:  http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/boxscore
  • Scott Brooks post game interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mj-69Br2zE
  • ESPN story, 04/17/17: “Paul Millsap after Hawks loss: We played basketball, they played MMA”, http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19173546/paul-millsap-atlanta-hawks-washington-wizards-were-playing-mma-game-1-victory
  • Last Two Minute report, Wizards-Celtics: http://official.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/L2M-WAS-BOS-05-02-17.pdf
  • NBA Officials Data: http://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/
  • 2014-15 Phoenix Suns: http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHO/2015.html
  • AP report, NBA statement on 2016 non-calls in Spurs-Thunder Game 2: http://www.nba.com/2016/news/05/03/nba-on-spurs-thunder-game-2-non-calls.ap/
  • Last Two Minute Reports FAQ: http://official.nba.com/nba-last-two-minute-reports-frequently-asked-questions/

Most missed shots last season, final 4:00 of the 4th: James Harden, D. Lillard, Reg Jackson and Paul George led the league in errant gunning

Basketball-reference.com posted the always interesting 2015-16 clutch shooting stats via their twitter feed Saturday. The top 10 list below answers the question:  What do NBA stat geeks do on the weekend?  But it also tells an illuminating story about the state of most of the current NBA, where the pace is picking up but scoring is not; and where the most 3-pointers in league history were shot while offensive rebounding hit an all-time low.

Curious who missed the most shots in the last 4:00 of the 4Q? Find out in the Play Index

Note that there are no Warriors, Cavaliers or Spurs on the list (no Bucks either) — and no big surprises. Not one of these ten players was in the top 20 in 3-point % last season, yet five were in the top 20 in 3-point attempts (Harden, Lillard, George, Walker and Thomas). All of them were in the Top 15 in field goals missed, with the guy with the best shooting % in the final 4:00, Reggie Jackson, ranking 15th.

Seven of these guys were All-Stars last season (Lillard, Jackson and Walker were not). Eight were on playoff teams last year (Wall and Anthony were not), making for some nearly unwatchable basketball in the early rounds. Six are point guards plus Harden, who tries to play three positions simultaneously. Two are wildly inconsistent Kobe-formula All-Stars (George and DeRozan).  And there’s Carmelo. Every player on this list is on a team that would likely win more if the player shot less, passed more and took better shots.  Meet the marksmen of mediocrity, the top 10 gunners who shouldn’t in the final 4:00.

Harden called a reporter a “weirdo” for questioning his 29% shooting in the 2014 playoffs vs. Portland. The Rockets lost the series.

1) James Harden was 2nd in the league in scoring (29.0 pts/gm) but got off to a horrendous start 2015-16, dug his team into a hole early on, and led the NBA in missed shots and turnovers.  He posted his lowest 3-point shooting % in the last 5 seasons yet shot more threes than anybody but Stephen Curry. Harden’s stat sheet is filled with such absurdities, his Rockets were next to unwatchable, and the center, Dwight Howard, opted out for bigger green and greener pastures. (Edit: Howard signed with the Atlanta Hawks).

D. Lillard. When you’re this wide open, you should definitely shoot it.

2) Portland wasn’t supposed to do anything last season, so Damian Lillard shot more than he ever had in his career, missed more than anybody but Harden, shot less than 42%, and was snubbed for the All-Star game. Thanks to some Allen Iverson-type heroics from Lillard, however, and teammates that hustled for the missed shots and won 50/50 plays (much like Iverson’s Sixers), the Trailblazers had a surprising season. They even won a playoff series.

3) Reggie Jackson went from OKC to Detroit in 2015 after Brandon Jennings went down with a snapped Achilles tendon, and Jackson helped lead the Pistons to the playoffs for the first time since the Allen Iverson experiment. Having paid a fair amount of attention to the Pistons last season, I can say they lost a bunch of close games (hack-a-Drummond played a role there) and that Jackson and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot their team out of a few of those.

However, note that Jackson’s 45% shooting in the final 4 minutes is tied for tops on this list, and that 7 of the ten guys on the list played in the East. This means that the competition usually shot worse than Reggie, yet, somehow the Pistons were unable to catch the Pacers in the standings and were stuck playing Lebron and the Cavs in Round 1 of the playoffs (they were swept).

Paul George shooting, I think. This is not good form, kids.

4) Paul George shot less than 42% last season and missed more than anybody but Harden and Lillard. Despite the Pacers 3rd-best team defensive rating, George’s inefficient offensive play, along with Monta Ellis‘ usual madness and poor outside shooting, exiled the Pacers to mediocre-ville, prompting the firing of coach Frank Vogel.  Will new coach Nate McMillan be able to bring sanity to the Pacers’ offense?  We shall see, but note that George shoots below 40% outside of three feet from the basket, and under 40% in the final four minutes (see above chart).  That’s worse than mediocre, though his 3-point % is not. The Pacers crash to mediocrity was predicted here three years ago, and, well, we know what happens to most mediocre NBA teams. They don’t win, nor do they remain mediocre.  Let’s see how long GM Larry Bird waits before overhauling the roster. And look, I finally spelled Monta right.

5) Russell Westbrook would be near unstoppable if he played smarter and remembered more often that he plays with Kevin Durant (who’s not on this list of failure, you’ll note). The Thunder finished ahead of only the lowly Sixers in 4th quarter scoreboard differential last season, and a lot of it had to do with the hero ball that Westbrook and Durant like to play down the stretch (and that the OKC bench had a habit of losing big leads.) It’s scary to think that OKC has so much room for improvement, but they do.  The Thunder upgraded their roster last week with the trade of Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova. (This was written before Durant bolted for Golden State, obviously).

This is not a good shot. Kemba Walker underwent successful surgery on his left knee in May.

6) Hard to believe Kemba Walker missed so much in the final 4:00 last season, given his uncanny success killing the Bucks in close games. Walker shot 46% (12 of 26) from three vs. the Bucks last season.  Thanks in part to the Bucks, he led the league in clutch scoring, according to the Hornets, narrowing it down to the final 2:00 of games decided by 4 points or less. His Hornets moved up in the East and won 48 games, but Hornets fans shouldn’t get too happy. The success had as much to do with the competition in the East than the Hornets’ competence — Charlotte was 20 wins, 3 losses against the Bucks (3-1), Magic (3-1), Knicks (3-1), Pacers (3-0), Nets (4-0) and Sixers (4-0).  But maybe they should get happy — all of those teams are still in the East.

7) Surprised John Wall is on this list?  I am too.  The Wizards were limping around for most of last season, and Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal seemed at times exhausted by it all — when they both played.  Wall had to take on added responsibilities due to the injuries, and, obviously, this resulted in more shots and fewer of the surgical passes he’s known for.

DeRozan and George battled it out in the playoffs, and it wasn’t pretty. DeRozan shot 32% from the field in the series, with George hacking him every step of the way.

8) DeMar DeRozan shot so poorly (39% including 15% on threes) during the playoffs that he should have been fined. Yet somehow he made another All-Star team and Toronto had its most successful season in history, losing to the Cavs in the East Finals — but only because Miami center Hassan Whiteside‘s knee gave out during the series with the Raptors.  They were nearly unwatchable in the playoffs. In the Pacers series, DeRozan’s eFG% was 33%, but, in all fairness, the refs kinda let George push him all over the court. Double D had a “Kobe formula”  stat line on the season, and, well, being on this list is part of having a Kobe formula stat line.

9) Isaiah Thomas is an electrifying young point guard, but he’s so small at 5’9″ that he gets worn down by the 4th quarter. Boston GM Danny Ainge desperately tried to trade the No. 3 pick in the draft for an established No. 1 scoring option at shooting guard/small forward but the Bucks (Khris Middleton), the Bulls (Jimmy Butler) and the Jazz (Gordon Hayward) all rejected the offer.  This may be an actual case where Thomas needs better-shooting teammates to stay off lists like this one.  But note that he did tie with Jackson for best shooting % on the list. Boston won 48 games, so it follows that opponents were usually shooting worse Thomas in the 4th.

Still Carmelo after all these years.

10)  A study a few years ago showed that Carmelo Anthony was the best clutch-shooter among the big names in the league, going all the way back to the early 2000s when Kobe and Shaq were winning titles and McGrady seemed unstoppable.  Carmelo has slipped, but then his 2016 Knicks were in a holding pattern, firing another coach and waiting for the free agents of this summer.  Carmelo laid back last season, played some good team ball, and enjoyed the surprise development of teammate Kristaps Porzingis.  I was actually surprised to see him on this list, but then, scorers will try to be scorers, whether they’ve lost a step or not.

What have we learned from this list?

High volume – low efficiency scorers may find their way onto All-Star teams and ESPN’s Sportcenter … if they shoot enough and don’t play in Portland or Charlotte (or Milwaukee).  But they’ll eventually drive their teams to mediocre-ville and take up residency there, where the fishing is always good in May and June.

Recalling bitter rivalries long past: A Sixers, Celtics, Bucks round-robin with playoff implications

Springtime is on the way in Milwaukee.  The snows are melting a dirty trickle in the rain.  The chartered buses are revved up for the state high school sectionals.  March Madness is in the air.  And the Bucks playoff seeding rests (in part) on how well they fare in games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

Celtics-Sixers, Sixers-Bucks, Bucks-Celtics — a weekend round-robin that began tonight in Philly — harkens (albeit vaguely) back to the NBA’s Golden Age when Larry Bird‘s Celtics, Sidney Moncrief‘s Bucks and Dr. J‘s Sixers waged battle season after season for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

To be a fan of coach Don Nelson’s Bucks was to worry about your team’s health every spring and fret over the strength of the opposition, the names Bird, Erving, Bobby Jones, McHale, Moses muttered under the breath in curses.  Bucks fans cringed at the inevitable playoff disappointment against arguably the two best teams ever assembled in the NBA.  But the Bucks in those days had Moncrief and Marques Johnson and Bob Lanier, and later Moncrief and Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey.  There was always hope.

The stakes aren’t so high for our Bucks these days.  They are a disappointing 25-38, a far cry from the Bucks teams that chased 60-win seasons during Moncrief’s prime.  Yet the 2011 Bucks find themselves gaining ground in the mad stumble for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, one game out as they face the Sixers Saturday at the BC and go to Boston Sunday to meet the Celtics.

The Celtics are hanging on to the top seed in the East with Derrick Rose’s Bulls hot on their heels.  The Sixers are in 7th place, out of the Bucks reach and looking to move up a rung or two on the East playoff ladder.

This Philly-Boston weekend is critical for Bucks as they work to establish some late consistency and salvage the season.

“The big test for us is Philly (on Saturday),” Bucks center Andrew Bogut noted after the Bucks ran away from the last place Cleveland Cavs on Wednesday for a rare easy victory.  “We never play well against Philly, and they’re having a great year. I think Philly is our test.”

Eighth will have to do for Bogut and the Bucks this season.

And, no, the names Bogut, Garnett and Brand don’t resonate like those of Erving, Bird and Moncrief, who will be on hand Saturday providing color commentary for the Bucks’ FSN broadcast.

But spring is almost here in Wisconsin, and this will have to do.

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Eighth was good enough for the Chicago Bulls in 1986, Michael Jordan‘s second NBA season, the year he missed 64 games with a broken left foot.  It will be good enough for Brandon Jennings in his sophomore NBA season, a year in which he, too, broke his left foot.

Jordan’s 1986 Bulls, also featuring rookie Charles Oakley and Orlando Woolridge in his second season, are worth mentioning here because whoever grabs the 8th seed in the East this season will surely make the playoffs with one of the worst records in recent memory.

The worst NBA playoff record, post-ABA merger, belonged to the 1986 Bulls, who won just 30 games playing in arguably the toughest conference that the NBA had ever put on the nation’s courts — the Eastern Conference of the mid-1980’s.

How good was the 11-team East in 1986?  The young Bulls went 3-15 against the Celtics, Sixers and Bucks.  There were Dominique Wilkins‘ Hawks and Isaiah Thomas‘ Pistons to contend with, too, and the Bulls were just 3-9 against them.

The Western Conference champions, the Twin Towers Houston Rockets starring 7-footers Hakeem Olajawon and Ralph Sampson, would fall in six games to the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals.  The Rockets, with the luxury of playing in the West, finished 51-31 (#2 in the West behind the Lakers) but won just 3 of their 10 games against the Beasts of the East.  The Rockets would very likely have finished 6th in the East, and no better than 5th.

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Playoff atmosphere in Philly. The Sixers kicked off the Boston-Philly-Milwaukee round-robin by holding off the Celtics, 89-86, snapping a seven-game home losing streak to the Celtics.  Center Spencer Hawes, forward Elton Brand and swingman Andre Iguodala led a balanced Sixer attack that ended with five players in double figures.   The Celtics were led by Jeff Green (18 pts) and Nenad Krstic (16 and 15 boards)?

No, these are not the Celtics and Sixers of the great Bird and Dr. J rivalry, but the Wachovia Center crowd roared playoff intensity nonetheless as Iguodala waltzed through the lane for the game-clinching layup.

Ray Allen had perhaps his worst game this season, scoring only 5 points on 2-11 shooting. The Celtics have lost two in a row.

The Sixers are playing their best ball since Allen Iverson’s heyday for coach Doug Collins, and moved to within a half game of the Knicks for 6th place and three games back of the Hawks in 5th.

The Hawks looked downright sick losing by 18 to the Carlos Boozer-less Bulls in Chicago.  “All-Star” Al Horford contributed 6 points and 7 rebounds in the loss.  Did I mention that the Bulls power forward, Carlos Boozer, didn’t play?

I watched Hawks-Bulls a second time, late night.  The Hawks simply turned dumb and selfish when faced with the in-your-face Bulls defense, just as they do when playing the Bucks.  They don’t like being challenged, and, even though Kirk Hinrich just joined the team, they looked completely lost when he wasn’t on the court.

They switched and had bigs guarding Derrick Rose in the 3rd quarter, same way the Mike Woodson Hawks of last season played Brandon Jennings.  That was a miserable failure.  Luol Deng got hot, and the Hawks had no one to guard him.  Josh Smith and Joe Johnson made horrible decisions on offense, repeatedly, Al Horford disappeared, and Jamaal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich seemed like the only guys interested in playing the game.

Zaza Pachulia was, as usual, a useless hack who isn’t too effective when a stronger player (Kurt Thomas) is matched up against him.

It was games 3, 4, and 5 last May all over again, with the Bulls dominating like the Bucks never could have without Bogut.   Bucks play the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday, and that game looks very winnable.