Pacers-Heat is the only series being played at the moment, but we're actually getting a miniseries inside of a series.
After a regular season in which flopping was pretty much curtailed, the acting has been ramped up again with some of the most impressive, dramatic flops we've seen in a long time.
As much as I hate it within the game, it's hard not to be entertained by the variety of flops. Game 4 featured the notable synchronized flops between LeBron James and David West that, fittingly, didn't draw a call at all (though both were fined on Thursday). There was West drawing one of LeBron's six fouls with an overreaction to a rather innocent LeBron elbow. There was Lance Stephenson darting in all kinds of directions, mostly just drawing sideways looks from the officials.
And, of course, we can go back in the series to point out some other famous flails, such as Dwyane Wade falling out of bounds trying, and failing, to draw a pushing call.
Maybe it's from a lack of practice, but these guys' acting skills have never been worse.
Here's the reason all these born-again thespians are breaking out the "skills" throughout this series: The stakes are so high that the penalties aren't even close to significant enough. If fooling a referee gets you a couple of calls that earn your team a trip to the NBA Finals, then these players will gladly bring stacks to the games and pay these fines Randy Moss style: straight cash, homey.
It's not just a part of the NBA again, it remains a part of sports culture, trying to fool officials. Happens in soccer (taking dives), baseball (catchers framing pitches or fielders signaling they've caught a ball after a short bounce) and football (exaggerating to get a hold call or personal foul call).
But when it comes to the NBA, and this series in particular, we've got the best player in the world flopping and the best defensive team in the league flopping.
This is pretty bad, isn't it?
The flopping doesn't bother me nearly as much as the fussing about the flopping. So flopping happens a couple of times a game. To read Twitter, you'd think the flops were the only thing that happened. I'd much rather talk about this.
If the refs aren't going to fall for flops -- and they didn't, in the examples you cited -- then it's literally no harm, no foul. Not even Tony Allen's oh-my-head thespian bit -- the most egregious acting of the playoffs at a critical stage of the game -- altered the officials' minds. Yes, flopping is lame. But it's just the evolution of the game within the game. Michael Jordan used to slap his own wrist to make it sound as if he'd been fouled. Kobe Bryant will yell out "Hey!" if he thinks he has been wronged on his way to the hoop. Coaches try to send subliminal messages to the officials in their news conferences. Flopping is just another sales job.
If it isn't determining the outcome of games or playoff series, I'm not that offended by it. What does get me is the rash of moving-screen offensive foul calls. Those are causing critical turnovers, putting key players in foul trouble and slowing down the games with more unnecessary whistles. That sixth foul on James in Game 4 -- on a dubious call for a screen that Wade didn't even use -- was the clincher. Moving screens have clearly been a point of emphasis for the officials. They need to be de-emphasized. As long as screeners aren't acting like a pulling offensive tackle in football or lowering shoulders into unsuspecting defenders, I don't see why we need a mandate on illegal screens.
Umm, you know what makes a moving screen such a difficult call to make/avoid?
Guys get touched by a hip or a knee or a toe and they fall to the floor and look to the refs, when, in reality, they're usually just trying to run through a screen instead of around it. In Game 1 of the East finals, there were so many moving screens called, I wasn't sure what a legal screen looked like anymore.
And while you're saying certain flops weren't called fouls -- some of them were -- it only makes the officials' jobs more difficult, differentiating between a real foul and a Hollywood foul. It also takes away from the purity of the game when players have to exaggerate so dramatically to earn a foul call. Truth is, these results probably wouldn't be different if the flopping were limited or taken away altogether. And that would even keep you happy.
To me, the flopping was significantly diminished this regular season, which made for more entertaining basketball with less questions and outrage that these flops create. The question is, what can you do about it in playoff games with these stakes?
The NBA announced in April the "harsher" penalties for flopping in the postseason, which begin with a $5,000 fine and takes until the fourth violation for it even to reach $30,000. How much of a deterrent is that for even midlevel paid players? Doesn't seem like much, if any at all.
I say hike those prices up to six figures starting with the second violation. You'll see some pretty legitimate play in that scenario.
Some are suggesting using the fourth, alternate referee as a monitor of flopping. That seems too complicated to me. What's he supposed to do, run out to the floor and yell, "Stop the game! That was a flop!" or even have some "flop button" he can press from the officials' locker room that alarms the on-floor refs?
Jordan's slapping of his own wrist is actually clever. This? This reeks of desperation and poor sportsmanship.
But if the game's best player acknowledges it's part of the game, who's going to stop it? Players like LeBron and Wade and other superstars should set an example by eliminating it from their game and call it a cheap ploy for players who aren't good enough.
The problem the league faces is it probably can't unilaterally increase the fines to truly damaging levels without push-back from the union. Is this something they want to make a contentious part of the next collective bargaining agreement? Or is it something they take seriously enough to make it a suspendable offense?
The only way to get the attention of the players is to keep them out of the games that matter most. You'll notice there has been only one suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation in the six seasons since Amar'e Stoudemire had to sit out a playoff game against the Spurs for his unfortunate stroll down the sideline. That would be the only way to eradicate flopping.
Even then I'm still uncomfortable penalizing people because we think they're acting. Can we ever be 100 percent sure they weren't actually knocked over? Can we get John Brenkus and the Sport Science guys on this? They could do a baseline test, as they do for concussions, and measure the amount of energy it takes to displace every player, and whenever someone gets knocked down they could analyze whether there was sufficient force to cause it in that specific play. That's still something that would have to come after the game, which means it still wouldn't be the ultimate deterrent. If you thought you could draw a sixth foul on LeBron in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, couldn't you live with the suspension at the start of the next season?
It comes down to this: Is it easier to stop flopping, or stop the complaining about flopping? The choice is yours.
Suspensions would make sense, and would be quite a deterrent, essentially because they amount to hefty fines.
Here's the thing about complaining. You're right, it's overdone. Particularly when people think falling when you take a charge is flopping. That's not a flop. That's what your body needs to do to avoid injury. You establish position, get run into, fall backward. It's an art, actually. But it's just as much to save your body as it is to get the referee's attention.
But, to my recollection, this is by far the most intense flopping conversation we've had all season. That, to me, is because the penalties are working. They'll work better in the postseason if they're harsher.
What would also work well enough is pride.
Having the reputation as a flopper would seem to be a very unwanted label. Again, it implies you need to "cheat" to succeed. And with all the other labels that get thrown around in the NBA ("dirty," "soft," "choker," etc.), you'd think you'd want to avoid this particular one.
Especially when it doesn't even work well enough to be a useful tool.
Reluctantly, I'd rather have people gripe about flopping than continuously harp on the officiating and see every bad call as part of some nefarious plot orchestrated by the league office. You'd think that a final four that includes San Antonio, Memphis and Indiana (who bounced two teams from L.A. and one from New York, respectively, en route) would be enough to quiet any conspiracy theory talk. All it seemed to do was increase the chatter that the small-market invasion of the conference finals would force the league to shepherd the Heat into the NBA Finals. As if the best team in the league was incapable of winning four out of seven on its own.
If anything, two of the three biggest calls of this series went against the Heat. I don't know how the officials called a 24-second violation after the Pacers rebounded a shot that replays showed clearly hit the rim in Game 4. But the refs didn't have to call that illegal screen on LeBron in the final minute of that game. They also didn't have to blow the whistle when Wade grazed Paul George's arm on a 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 1 … in Miami, no less. That Wade foul was forgotten after LeBron drove to the hoop for the winning basket, putting all the attention on Frank Vogel's decision to sit Roy Hibbert for that play.
I felt bad for Vogel, but secretly I was happy. Coaching decisions are the type of things we should be talking about between playoff games. Not officiating, and not flopping.