Something Foul

Here's a fun little NBA thing you can do while watching NBA basketball with friends and a Tivo: After any rebound in traffic, announce loudly "That was a FOUL!"

Somebody -- a fan of the team that ended up with the ball -- will disagree.

Then rewind the Tivo, and play the scene again, in slow motion.

At that speed, somewhere in that play, you will see someone doing something that could easily be called a foul. I can almost guarantee it.

And when that happens, you will look like a genius.

Good little party trick, but also evidence that referees have almost total discretion. They allow enough contact thatPau Gasol, Lamar Odom they can, essentially, call fouls whenever they want.

Similarly, I used to commute on a straight, flat road with unbelievably good visibility, no side streets, not even any buildings around. Everybody traveled at least 45 or 50 for that stretch of a mile or so, and even that didn't feel remotely dangerous. But the speed limit was posted at 25 -- a speed literally nobody ever traveled.

Which meant the police could stop ... absolutely whomever they wanted.

That's a lot of power!

ESPN's J.A. Adande suggests that last night that kind of power, in the hands of Steve Javie, Tom Washington, and Bob Delaney, was used to favor the home team:

The benefits of home were more apparent on the stat sheet: The Lakers enjoyed a 42-28 advantage in free-throw attempts (and that includes the four free throws Bryant shot in the final 10.7 seconds, when the Jazz fouled to stop the clock).

When the Jazz got close to the basket, there was more contact than in a rush-hour crowd shoving into the subway, but rarely a blown whistle. Meanwhile, at the other end, Lamar Odom breezed past Carlos Boozer for a layup and got a gift and-one. And Utah players and coaches are still wondering how Mehmet Okur could wind up sprawling toward the baseline, leaving Pau Gasol alone under the basket for an easy offensive rebound and dunk to put the Lakers ahead by five points with 20.5 seconds remaining.

I suspected as much watching the game on TV. There was a lot going on under the Jazz hoop without a lot of free throws resulting. Carlos Boozer really wanted a foul that I think he probably should have gotten, for instance.

But nothing was quite like that moment when Pau Gasol hammered Mehmet Okur.

That's the play when we all learned the Jazz were unlikely to win this series. They had been hanging around with a puncher's chance. They got the key miss. But when it came time for the all-important rebound, their guy started the play with Pau Gasol all over his back, and ended it with Okur stumbling forward out of the play entirely as Gasol dunked the de facto game-winner.

It's in these highlights, near the very end. (UPDATE: And here.)

In fact, that Tivo trick I just told you about? I acted that out pretty well. "Are you kidding me?" I barked at the screen.

Rewind. Slow motion. I watched several times. Hard to tell. By any measure, Gasol was more intimate with Okur than the rules would strictly allow, but welcome to the playoffs, you know? What I wanted to see was the moment when Gasol shoved Okur out of the way. With all the contact, that moment was tough to isolate.

I assumed I had been correct, however.

A few minutes later, though, TNT showed another view, as Doug Collins announced that Okur tried to pretend he had been shoved, but in fact wasn't.

This made me even angrier. There had been a terrible no-call, and now the announcer was going to add insult to injury by accusing Okur, essentially, of being a dramatic baby?

Let us not forget, all this is going on with a shot at the Western Conference Finals likely on the line. It was 105-102. Deron Williams had been hitting threes. There were twenty seconds left.

Let us also not forget that the Utah Jazz are generally considered to be one of the roughest and toughest teams in the NBA.

I hit the rewind button on that second angle, followed by the slow-motion button. I watched it again and again.

And I was shocked.

Look, maybe there's something I missed. But that angle sure seemed telling. And the more times I watched it, the more clear it was: Okur did flop.

He had been shoved in the back moments before with a Gasol forearm that was still planted in his back. It was the kind of thing that is never called. Just battling for position. But Okur had been pushed a little deeper into the lane than he probably wanted to go. Sasha Vujacic's 3 from the corner bounced off the back of the rim, and took a perfect carom almost directly to the spot Gasol had freshly stolen from Okur.

Even though the Jazz had boxed out all the way around the rim, this ball was even money or better to make its way over Okur's head and into the waiting hands of Gasol.

My best interpretation of the video is that Okur tried to get his team possession another way -- by dramatizing a foul that had actually occurred seconds earlier.

He did a pretty good job of it too. But in the end, it was a rebound, dunk, game, and likely series to the Lakers.

And so I stopped being mad at the no call. And I started getting mad at the flopping.

UPDATE: Love this Matt Harpring quote, from the Salt Lake Tribune: "Sometimes when you come down the stretch like that, it's who wants the ball more. We've got to get the ball. Those are just hustle plays. They're not going to call fouls like that. You've just got to find a way to come up with the ball."

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)