PORTLAND – Earlier this week, the NBA had to own up to a missed call at the end of the Utah-Oklahoma City game, but that seems like small potatoes now. The league might have to apologize for all 48 minutes of Dallas’s 83-77 win over Portland.
Let me explain: I never like to mention officiating in a story because I feel like it cheapens the winning team’s accomplishment. Besides, part of winning basketball is knowing how to react to the officiating and staying composed when the calls go against you.
Tonight, however, I’m making an exception. I have to. It’s unavoidable; I’d be burying the main story if I didn’t. First, though, let me emphasize that Dallas won on merit: They completely stifled Brandon Roy, got 40 points from Dirk Nowitzki, and were a half-step quicker to most of the loose balls. They also reacted better to the officials than Portland to earn a huge road win in the battle for Western Conference seeding.
Nonetheless, the other story tonight is what everybody in the arena, regardless of which side they were cheering, will remember about this one: Put simply, this was as badly officiated a game as I’ve ever seen.
The calls were equally horrifying both ways, so the Blazers can’t use it as an excuse. It didn’t favor one team; it just turned the entire game into a mush of clutching, grabbing ugliness. In a related story, the winning team shot 33.8%. This wasn’t “letting them play” as much it was preventing them from playing.
As for blown calls, take your pick. My personal favorite was a triple-dribble in the open court by Roy that 20,693 of the 20,696 people in the Rose Garden Arena saw clearly. Unfortunately, the three that didn’t were officials Ken Mauer, David Guthrie and Sean Wright.
You could nominate ten to fifteen other egregious misses and have just as strong a case. A brief highlight reel would include Erick Dampier hitting Rudy Fernandez right across the face on a drive with no whistle; a foul called on Nicolas Batum for allowing Jason Terry to take a Pamplona-esque running charge at him off the ball; Dirk Nowitzki being assaulted by three Blazers on a crucial late possession that led to a steal and a three-point play for Portland; Brendan Haywood either jamming or dislocating a finger on a hack by Fernandez that went uncalled; and Dampier blatantly hacking Andre Miller on a drive about 18 inches from Mauer’s eyes, the replay of which nearly caused a riot. (Portland's crowd, incidentally, did not handle this with much class; several fans threw things and had to be escorted out).
Mauer was the culprit for most of the misses; normally among the league’s best zebras, he was unrelentingly awful. This isn’t revisionist history either – by early in the second quarter I had Tweeted that he’d uncharacteristically blown several calls, and it turned out he was just getting warmed up. Both Andre Miller and Blazers coach Nate McMillan picked up technical fouls yelling at him in the fourth quarter; those calls were merely questionable as opposed to overtly awful, but by that time Portland was overcome by frustration.
Which takes us to the second part of the story, the part that ultimately matters: Dallas won. The more experienced Mavs reacted better to all the blown calls, put their heads down and kept plowing away.
As McMillan put it afterward, “Get to the next play.” Portland didn’t always do it tonight and it cost them, perhaps dooming them to a No. 8 seed and a first-round pairing against the Lakers.
The Blazers can point to plenty of other reasons they lost besides the refs. They shot 10-of-49 on shots outside the paint; for a team built around offense and shooting, that won’t get it done. They missed seven free throws, committed 15 turnovers and, as I mentioned, gave away four free throw attempts on technical fouls; the Mavs stayed composed enough to not pick up a single tech, even though the bizarre officiating gave Dallas just as many excuses to vent its anger.
“We got upset about some calls,” said Roy, “but we just didn’t make shots. I think we reacted – maybe we overreacted. But I don’t think the technicals were the reason we lost. Offensively, we didn’t execute well.”
They’ll need to execute much better – and focus much better – if they’re going to get very far in the postseason. With upcoming battles against the Lakers and Thunder, they’ll need to regain their composure quickly. They might take a look at how the winning side reacted to the same environment tonight, and take a few pointers from it.