OAKLAND — Much of the post-loss blame game around the Cavaliers — from media and fans — turned on J.R. Smith and his brain fart to end all brain farts.
Not the Cavaliers’ players — they are angry with Ken Mauer and the officiating crew.
Angry is an understatement. Livid is closer. Filled with the rage of 1,000 white-hot suns is pretty spot on.
Let’s set the scene: Cleveland was up two with 36 seconds left in the game when Kevin Durant drove the lane. LeBron James slid over in front of him, and Durant was called with the charge.
However, then the referees — led by Ken Mauer and Tony Brothers — reviewed the call and overturned it, giving LeBron a blocking foul and Durant two free throws.
The Cavaliers lost it in that moment, and never quite got over it. Instead of Cleveland getting to eat up some clock and make it a two possession game, Durant knocked down two free throws and tied it up. The Cavaliers eventually lost Game 1 in overtime. After the game, the Cavaliers were far more focused and angry about the reversed call.
The NBA added the charge/block situation to the list of reviewable calls in the final two minutes of the game a couple of years ago. However, it is almost always just about whether a player was in or out of the restricted area.
Mauer explained the overturned call this way after the game:
“The reason for the trigger is that we had doubt as to whether or not James was in the restricted area. When over at the table, we then are allowed to determine whether or not he was in a legal guarding position. It was determined he was out of the restricted area, but he was not in a legal guarding position prior to Durant’s separate shooting motion. So we had to change it to a blocking foul.”
Upon review, it did look like a blocking foul on LeBron (although in real time it was one of those bang-bang NBA plays that can be called either way).
What frustrated LeBron — and his teammates, and Cavaliers’ nation on Twitter — was the reason for the review in the first place. LeBron was not close to the restricted area. Even in real time that was clear, so why did the officials decide this needed a review? The sense is the referees just wanted another look at it so they used the restricted area as an excuse.
“I thought I read that play just as well as I read any play in my career, defensively,” LeBron said in a very measured tone after the game. “I seen the drive, I was outside the charge line, I stepped in, took the contact. It’s a huge play. It’s a huge play… I knew I was outside the charge line, and I knew I took the hit. I don’t know what else to say…..
“We were told they were reviewing if I had my feet outside the line. And when I knew that, I was like, ‘okay, that’s going to be our ball.’ I knew I was outside the charge line, so that’s what the communication was to us. We were over on the sideline, drawing up a play, you know, to try to execute, try to go up a couple possessions.”
A frustrated and dejected Tyronn Lue after the game didn’t understand where the referees were coming from either.
“I guess the rule is you can review — you can review the call if it’s inside or outside the restricted, is the rule that I know,” Lue said. “And, I mean, they called a charge, right? And LeBron was clearly four feet outside the restricted area. So it doesn’t make sense to go review something if — the review is if he’s on the line or if he’s close to the charge circle, that’s the review. He wasn’t close. So what are we reviewing? Either call a blocking foul or call an offensive foul.
“For our team to come out and play their hearts out and compete the way we did, man, I mean, it’s bad…. And then tonight in The Finals on the biggest stage, when our team played well, played our (butt) off, man, it ain’t right. It ain’t right.”
In the moment, the Cavaliers never quite got over it, and then they compounded their mistakes in the end.
The Warriors, not shockingly, thought the referees got it right. And to a man they said they were aware that the officials can decide more than just if a guy is in or out of the restricted area.
“The blocked charge thing, last year in the regular season same play happened to me,” Durant said. “It was a block. They called it a block, and they went and reviewed it and changed it to a charge. So I knew once it was 30 seconds to go that they could review that situation. There were a couple, like goaltending and block/charge a couple years ago, they put those rules in that you could review them. Just like you can review out of bounds calls. So I knew that. I knew he was late on the drive, and I knew I had my man beat and he came over a little late.
So when they called the charge, I was surprised, but I’m glad they reviewed it.”
The Cavaliers have until Sunday to try to shake both the call and the loss off.
Maybe they do. Or maybe this is a punch to the gut from which they will be staggered for a little while longer.