From an overall standpoint, the ongoing 2019-20 NBA season has been one of the least intriguing campaigns in years. Most people will point out the problem of injuries and a long schedule as the main source of conflict, considering the fact that premiere stars such as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, and Blake Griffin are all out for the season.
Though, the NBA’s officiating takes the prize as the league’s biggest problem. Multiple games have shown the referees underperform in crucial moments. Every year there are always going to be controversial games because of officiating, but this year there has been more than usual.
What are some examples of the poor officiating this season and how can this problem be solved? These questions will be answered in this article.
On February 7th, the Portland Trail Blazers matched up against the Utah Jazz. The game was down to the wire with Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard dominating while Utah had six guys with ten points or more. With 15 seconds left, Damian Lillard drove into the lane for a floater. As the ball was about to roll in, Jazz center Rudy Gobert tipped the ball out. Usually, this would be considered a goaltend. Incredibly, lead official Josh Tiven did not call goal-tending and believed it was a block.
Lillard became furious when the buzzer began to sound and the Blazers officially lost 117 to 114.
In post game interviews, Damian blasted the officials for not calling a goaltend and not reviewing it at all. Also in those post game interviews, Gobert admitted to the goaltend when he watched the review.
How and why is this possible in this day and age with all this technology? And to what evaluation system are the refs being accounted for?
The next situations took place on February 23rd during the anticipated Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics game. In the second quarter, Celtics’ rookie Romeo Langford beat LeBron James to the basket for a layup. Lakers’ center Dwight Howard began to play help defense as he should. When Romeo’s shot was about to go in, Howard clearly had a goaltending violation. At first, the official called it a goaltend, but James complained right away. After a replay which showed goaltending, the call was switched to an inadvertent whistle and a jump ball.
The next terrible call made was in the final minutes of the game on Jaylen Brown. When Brown was passing the ball to teammate Marcus Smart, the refs called it out of bounds. The refs then went to review the call which showed Brown’s foot in bounds but the call remained the same due to the roar in Staples Center. These situations showed two things: The refs are more likely to listen to adjust calls for superstar players and the home crowd.
The NBA needs to make sure that refs aren’t easily swayed. These calls changed the game and helped contribute to a Lakers win.
Lastly, the recent Dallas Mavericks-Atlanta Hawks game is being protested for many miscalls, which took place in the final ten seconds. In the closing moments, a correct goaltending call was made, and after the call, there was a put back. After further review, the officials did not count the goaltend, but did count the put back and gave the Hawks the ball where they would score.
Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban went to Twitter stating, “So they call a goal-tend. They literally blew the whistle that it was a goal-tend. There was a put back after the whistle. After review they said no goal-tend but count the basket ? WTF is that ? That’s NBA officiating”.
Cuban then filed for a protest. If the NBA allows for the replay of the game, the game would start with a jump-ball at half-court with Atlanta leading 109-107 and ten seconds on the clock. The point is that if a play is after a whistle it shouldn’t count. In this scenario, it did. The only way problems like this could be solved is more help from the official NBA Replay Center.
The NBA Replay Center is comprised of former NBA referees who review the officials rules during the game and provide the refs with replays. But, these former officials have no say in the call despite having the rule book next to them during the game. Having the NBA Replay Center help out with the calls can help the officials out and prevent the officials from making terrible calls. But this has its flaws as it takes away from the ref’s job to make the calls. Having the Replay Center have input can make the games less biased, and can change a game for the right reason.
In addition to the NBA Replay Center having a verdict, the NBA should fine refs for influence from the crowd or players. This would put more pressure on the officials to not get pressured from outside sources. The fact is LeBron shouldn’t be telling the refs what is right or what is wrong. He whines after every call because he knows he can change the call in some way. Refs won’t be inclined to satisfy player’s needs if they know they can be fined.
There will always be bad games called, but this season, the officiating has been terrible and it has affected TV ratings, views, and the fan’s thoughts on the game. Come playoff time, these calls can make or break a team’s season.
If the NBA wants to increase views and ratings, better officiating is needed.
Photo: CBS Sports