|Updated: 6/18/2012 11:30 pm
||Published: 6/18/2012 10:52 pm
Ask just about any coach or player about a questionable call by an official late in a game, and nine times out of ten, they'll tell you it didn't cost them the game. At least on camera they'll tell you that. They'll say they shouldn't have put themselves in a situation to rely on an official to make a call. And they're right. It's best not to be in that situation. The Thunder shouldn't have been in that situation in game two of the NBA Finals when the officials failed to call an obvious foul on LeBron James that would have sent Kevin Durant to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game with seconds left. And the Thunder definitely shouldn't have been in that situation in game three when it had a 10-point lead in the third quarter only to stumble down the stretch and lose, falling behind two games to one in the series.
But here's the thing, none of that changes the fact that if the officials were better at doing their jobs, it would be OKC leading the NBA Finals 2-1, or maybe even 3-0. If Oklahoma City plays perfect basketball, the Heat can't stop the Thunder. Neither can the refs. But perfect basketball is a tall order. Miami is a good team with great players. The Heat shouldn't get to start with a 5-point advantage, or whatever the officials' favoritism equals out to through the course of a game.
Look, I don't think the NBA is rigged. The lottery is not fixed. The playoffs are not predetermined, and the officials are not instructed to make the Heat win the championship. But there is no doubt NBA officials protect NBA stars, and Miami has two of the biggest ones. No one gets more calls than LeBron James, except maybe Dwyane Wade. As we learned in game three, when LeBron has the ball and shoulder bumps a defender, it's not a charge or even a no-call, it's a foul on James Harden. When Wade drives to the hoop, makes a lay-up, and a defender's fingers brush his hip, that's a foul on James Harden too.
Kevin Durant doesn't quite get the calls LeBron and Wade do, not yet. Russell Westbrook is far from it, and so is James Harden. It's a disadvantage for OKC.
You know how before a series starts, newspapers break down the match-up position by position? Point guard vs point guard. Center vs center. Coach vs coach. They should add the officials column to that breakdown. The Heat would always get the check mark in that column. It's a check mark that doesn't guarantee Miami a win in the game or in the series, but it sure doesn't hurt.
Like the Thunder players and coaches say, they can't put themselves in a situation where they have to rely on the officials to make a call for OKC to win a game. What they're not saying is, they can't put themselves in that situation because the officials won't make that call. Not ever. Not for the Thunder. Or more accurately, not against the Heat.