Officials correct on Rondo vs. Miller
I have been critical of some of Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro's decisions in the Bulls' first-round series with the Boston Celtics. But I really don't believe Del Negro designed the last play of Game 5 so that the slowest and least athletic player on the floor could drive to the basket and challenge a defender who already had seven blocked shots on the night.
I'm guessing the play was designed for one of Del Negro's better midrange jump-shooters to be wide open near the free-throw line for an easy shot to tie the game.
That's what I think when I watch replays of the Bulls' final possession Tuesday night. But instead of Brad Miller taking the wide-open jumper, he glacially put the ball on the floor, went up with a weak finger roll, and was quickly reminded that this is the playoffs.
Rajon Rondo obviously fouled him hard. But Rondo was making a play on the ball. The Celtics did not win Game 5 because they got away with a flagrant foul. They won it because in the fourth quarter and down to the final play in overtime, the Bulls did not properly execute on offense. Miller should've taken the wide-open jumper -- that's what he does, that's why he's in the game. Rondo defended his basket -- that's what he should have done. And the refs did what they were supposed to do -- allow the players to decide the outcome.
Unlike my colleague Jeff Van Gundy, I don't believe in situational ethics when it comes to officiating games. A touch foul in the first quarter should also be a foul in the fourth quarter. Why? Because that's the precedent the refs set for that game. Each referee team sets the tone of a game differently, and it's up to the players and coaches to adjust accordingly. Then, once the rules have been set, it's up to the refs to stick to the sort of game they've allowed early on.
To do a bait and switch under the guise that it's "crunch time" isn't really fair to anyone. In fact, it actually creates an environment where tempers are more likely to flare, because players become frustrated by inconsistencies. Besides, basketball is hard enough to objectively officiate, without some unspoken rule about when it's time to call a foul and when it's time to ignore one.
If you thought Tim Donaghy brought a renegade air to the league, what Van Gundy is suggesting is pure anarchy. From my perspective, John Salmons and Glen Davis were getting hit in the paint the entire game without getting calls, so the refs were allowing for a physical game. That's why Kirk Hinrich needed stitches.
Yes, Miller got clobbered on the final play. But he also has done his fair share of clobbering. Rondo clocked him, but he's also been clocked. That's just playoff ball, and everyone who watches the NBA knows it. I love the way the Bulls play, but the people who are upset about the lack of a flagrant foul are ignoring all the non-calls that went the Bulls' way Tuesday night, most notably Ben Gordon seemingly stepping out of bounds before Tony Allen fouled him on a shot attempt, which allowed the Bulls to tie the game late. They're also ignoring the fact it was Miller who didn't hit the first free throw. And it was Miller who didn't take the open jump shot in the first place.
But also keep in mind, it wasn't just Miller who lost the game. The Chicago Bulls lost the game.
The Bulls coughed up an 11-point lead by being impatient on offense, by refusing to double-team Paul Pierce once he got going, and opting not to run a play with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and instead clearing it out for an injured Gordon, who was having an off night.
Games aren't won or lost on one possession. And expecting a bailout on the road against the defending champs is unrealistic, especially when the refs have allowed physical play in the paint from the onset and did not sway from that later. Now, had Rondo thrown an elbow the way Dwight Howard did against Samuel Dalembert on Tuesday night, then yeah, I could understand a complaint. But Rondo made a play on the ball, and Miller's face got in the way.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.