Tag: officiating

Blake Griffin

The “Violence Against Blake Griffin” situation


He’s asking for it.

OK, stop, that right there. That’s me trying to snag your attention with some sort of bombastic statement. I can assure you my position is more nuanced than this phrase, which by the way, in the context of violence of any sort — on-court, off-court, sexual, non-sexual — should never, ever be used, and that my use of it is only as a way to let you know this is actually a thing that’s going on and not just “oh, Jason Smith gave Blake Griffin a hard foul.”

The NBA is developing a problem for itself, and how it handles it will be a very delicate matter. Because Blake Griffin is asking for it, and that’s what the league wants.

Remember those halcyon days last year when Griffin was just creating highlights, detonating at 10,000 feet like the NBA version of a warhead, and everyone just thought it was awesome? Yeah, hi, welcome to 2012, where due to exposure, the life expectancy of your ubiquitous mass appeal is about 45 seconds. Griffin hasn’t been the same monster this year that he was last year. He’s still got a handful of absolutely absurd throwdowns, but his points, rebounds, and assists are all down per 36 minutes from last year. His efficiency is slightly up, both in field goal percentage and PER, but his free throw shooting is down. And while his free throw rate is down from his rookie year, you can tell that part of the drop in his productivity has to do with the fouls he’s taking.

Last year, it was cute. There were some who gave the hard foul, it got to be more of an issue, the Clippers certainly complained about it, but in reality, it was mostly just adorable that he tried so hard on every play. But this year, the cuteness has worn off. The book is out on Griffin. Hammer him, punish him, make it clear you will not stand for him putting you on NBC SportsTalk as a highlight. And since Griffin is so physical, so athletic, so aggressive, you have to do it fast. So you have fast, plus violence. Or, in the absence of fast, you can have reckless. Observe.

Now, Smith has already apologized for the hit, and knows it was reckless. In reality, this play isn’t indicative of what Griffin is facing on a night-to-night basis. This is an outlier, a sloppy combination of a player giving up on trying to make the play while not giving up on giving contact. This isn’t the type of player Jason Smith is, it was just a bad foul. But this, again, is the book on Blake Griffin. This is how you stop him. And he knows that, which is why he’s also driving fans nuts (and making them want those hard fouls given) by freaking out over every call.

This isn’t anything new for Griffin. He’s typically always had the same attitude. And if it seems familiar, here’s why, and I want to be clear on this so we’re going all bold: Every great player in the history of the NBA has freaked out over getting calls because it gives them an edge. Yes, Jordan. Yes, Kobe. Yes, Duncan. Yes, Malone. Yes, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Travis Diener. (OK, Travis didn’t do that, nor was he great.)

It’s part of it. It’s how you react. And it’s a two way street. Those players I mentioned above, the Trav not withstanding, they all take an excessive amount of punishment which the league cannot completely corral. Kobe Bryant gets a ridiculously high number of foul calls in his favor. He also has a ridiculous number of fouls calls missed. If you go through and watch a ton of highlights, you’re going to see guys being more hands-on with Kobe than they were with their dad’s stash of adult magazines when they were 13. And by they I mean you. Bryant takes bumps, scrapes, hits, whacks, thumps, shoves, elbows, and I think one time bites because he has the ball a ton, scores the ball a ton, and his defenders will do anything to stop him.

So Griffin’s reaction is annoying and overdramatic, but it’s not only trying to win to get that advantage, it’s self-preservation. The Clippers and Griffin honestly feel that he’s targeted, and that the abuse he takes is greater than that of the average player. And he’s probably right. And the reason for why that is what gives the league such a headache.

The NBA wants those highlights. It wants Griffin putting a ridiculous poster down on some huge defender to steal the spotlight from baseball on highlight shows across the country on the third night of baseball season. It wants to showcase this dynamic, explosive young powerhouse whose play seems like Thor himself raining thunder down on his enemies. But they do have, despite public sentiment to the opposite, a practice of letting the players police themselves. You’re allowed to target a guy as long as you do it within the bounds of play and you do not violate any of the specific rules set forth. You’ll be punished for such plays, whether it’s a personal, flagrant, or flagrant II foul. But they don’t specifically act to control such measures, because they can’t treat any one player as special. Just because Blake Griffin tries really hard doesn’t mean that they can involve themselves in protecting him from harm any more so than for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard or Sam Young or Drew Gooden. They can only respond to excessive incidents.

The nature of the game means they can only be reactive.

And that’s a trick for them. It’s why you see so many superstar young guys fade into less contact. Dwyane Wade was a contact-loving machine his first three seasons. A barrel full of injuries later and his game is much more predicated on slipping contact than creating it. Griffin’s already trying to diversify his game to be more deadly from range (and failing miserably). We want to see him drive instead of take that mid-range jumper, but the only way he can draw defenders out to create space and therefore not get beaten to a pulp when he drives is to knock down that shot.

Meanwhile the league is going to face this as a continuing issue. Because Griffin’s adjusting, but he’s not relenting. For all the complaints and the way defenses have adjusted to him, you have to give him that. He’s still waiting like a cobra to strike every time down the floor. But eventually the NBA may be put into a position where they have to intercede on the players’ own policing. And that’s going to get bad very quickly.

Addendum: You’re going to hear the phrase “back in the day” or “in the 80’s” a lot in relation to this issue. Please bear in mind two things. One, there’s a reason the game has evolved away from that and it has less to do with cultural values or an NBA image problem and more to do with the players not wanting to operate in an environment where their career can be threatened or their lives can be put in danger. It may make you feel like a man to talk about how tough things you used to not do were, but the reality has changed.

Two, the speed and violence capable at this level greatly exceeds what we knew in the 80’s due to strength and conditioning regimens and that means the dangers are that much higher. No one’s advocating getting rid of the hard foul here, or getting rid of the hard foul on Griffin. The point is simply that Griffin’s particular style means that the odds of injury continue to increase and that means the odds of a fight increase, and that violence at a high velocity, particularly in mid-air (which is why the Smith foul isn’t nearly as bad as others we’ve seen) is going to be problematic without intervention eventually.

Byron Scott fined for prototypical post-game officiating comments

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
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When you say something that indicates that you expect to be fined for your comments? Yeah, you’re pretty much locking up the fact that you’ll be fined.

Byron Scott went off last Friday in a 110-100 loss to Orlando saying the Cavaliers were playing against eight players and your typical “we got screwed” conversations. On Saturday, Scott said he expected to be fined. Today the NBA obliged him, fining him $35,000 for comments against the officials.

Here’s a surprising one: it was the first time Scott has been fined as a head coach. Never fined in New Jersey or New Orleans. Just another sign that Cleveland will reap unforeseen doom upon you.

Kidding, Cleveland! Just kidding!

Phil Jackson continues a marvelous career of post-game jabbing


Well, at least he didn’t demean any other coaches this time. In Phil Jackson’s historic, legendary career, he’s also managed to get away with being a coach who constantly demeans the other team and blames the officiating crew more than his own team for any loss. It’s a trademark of his competitiveness, a symbol of how dedicated he is to greatness, a product of his wisdom, and also kind of a jerk thing to do.

And after a regular season loss to Utah last night, he was back in the act again.

Late in the game the shot clock operator failed to reset the shot clock, forcing the officials to stop the game in order to correct it. In doing so, they lopped off a prime fast break opportunity for the Lakers. After the game, Jackson was none to happy about that particular sequence of events. From the Orange County Register:

“What was going on there?” Jackson asked reporters after the game. “That stopped a break on our part. That slowed us down.”

Nothing to vicious, but that may have been because with a correctly working shot clock the Lakers still failed to score in the final two and a half minutes of the game. But hey, easier to blame someone else, I suppose. Like, oh, say, Deron Williams!

“He’s tough and he gets away with a lot of stuff out there. He did some things tonight that were very unusual.”

Yes, Phil. If by unusual, you mean “defeat the incredibly awesome team you’ve had assembled for you” then yes, Deron did do something unusual.

Lakers fans will scream and yell till blue in the face, but it’s not just that Jackson complains like this when things don’t go his way, it’s that he’s lauded for it. “Mind games” people call them. In reality, it’s passive aggressive manipulation, the kind that your bosses in your workplaces would likely object to stiffly, just as mine would.

The problem is, neither you nor I have won 13 championships. And by that simply staggering measure, Jackson gets to say what he wants. Comes with the territory. You’d just think that someone could have earned his respect by now not to make jabs.


Stephen Jackson fined $50,000 for verbal abuse of an official

Charlotte Bobcats v Orlando Magic

The NBA announced it has fined Stephen Jackson $50,000 for verbal abuse of game officials during the Bobcats loss to the Pistons Friday night.

And now, a short selection of what we believe Jackson said, the same vein of Kevin Garnett’s explanation of what he said to Charlie Villanueva, inspired by Twitter:

“Mr. Official, are you and your mother close?”

“Excuse me, but I’m not certain if that call was necessarily accurate.”

“I am curious as to your roots in the greater Detroit metropolitan area. ”

“I wish to inform you that steadfastly protest your chosen decision on that particular play.”

Okay, so more accurately, we’re looking at:

“You (expletive) (expletive), I’ll (expletive) you and your (expletive) (redacted)  if you ever make that (expletive) (expletive) again. do you understand me? I will (expletive ) (redacted), (expletive).”

Ah, another day in the NBA.

Dick Bavetta isn't getting any love from the NBA

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Dick Bavetta is one of the biggest names in NBA officiating. That’s in part because of a race/kiss that Bavetta shared with one Charles Barkley at the 2007 All-Star Game, but also because at 70 years young, Bavetta is something of a marvel among the refereeing ranks. Getting up and down the court to call an NBA game isn’t quite running a marathon, but the fact that Bavetta continues to work games at his advanced age is pretty remarkable nonetheless.

There’s just one thing: Bavetta isn’t calling games right now, and he won’t be until next season. From Howard Beck of the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog:

Although the league has not announced it, people who have been told
of the schedule say that the 70-year-old Bavetta will not work any of
the games between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

Some of Bavetta’s peers believe that the league is trying to nudge
him into retirement. (The referees are prohibited by league rules from
speaking on the record.) No one expects Bavetta will walk away, given
his headstrong nature, his enduring enthusiasm and his generous base
salary, which is believed to be $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

…Bavetta has worked 2,434 games, the most in N.B.A. history, and has
never missed an assignment since he joined the league in 1975. He has
worked in 27 finals games, and in every championship series from 1990
to 2008.

That streak ended last year — a subtle indication that Bavetta was
no longer considered among the elite referees. Any ambiguity was erased
this spring, when he was not assigned to the conference finals, ending
a 20-year streak. Bavetta had worked in every conference finals round
since 1989.

The show must go on, but it’s certainly a bit odd to see everything go down without Bavetta present for a game or two.