Marc Gasol may have hit the game-winner to send the Grizzlies past the Rockets on Wednesday, but he only had that opportunity because of a no-call by the officials on the previous possession.
James Harden was clearly fouled across the arm by Zach Randolph on a drive to the basket, but the referees swallowed their whistles, and Memphis gained possession.
There’s no question it was a foul, and Harden should have been awarded two free throws; both he and Rockets head coach Kevin McHale were livid at the indifference shown by the officials afterward, and rightfully so.
While it won’t make any difference in the outcome, the NBA admitted the error the following day, when it released its officiating report on the game’s final two minutes.
The play was graded as an “incorrect non-call,” with the accompanying note saying that “Randolph (MEM) makes contact across Harden’s (HOU) arm/wrist, causing him to lose the ball on the drive to the basket.”
The admission is nice, but should these circumstances repeat themselves, there’s no guarantee that the referees will see things any differently. Harden is an elite offensive talent, and may be the best where drawing fouls from his opponents is concerned. But referees tend to like the players to decide close contests, rather than interjecting themselves into the decision by blowing a potentially questionable whistle with the game on the line.
Harden’s game requires that the referees intervene, and that may not serve him well once the postseason begins — where calls can often be much tougher to come by, especially in a game’s closing seconds.