ATLANTA -- After failing to protect a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in their 126-125 overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, several members of the Cleveland Cavaliers found fault in the officials for contributing to their collapse.
"It wasn't a foul on my sixth foul," said LeBron James, who fouled out with 1:52 remaining in overtime and the Cavs up by three, for contact with Atlanta's Paul Millsap while jostling for rebounding position. "I knew I had five [fouls]. I knew the ball was going long. So I may have grazed Millsap a little bit, but I mean, throughout the course of a game [that happens]. I didn't push him or anything like that."
It was the second time this season that James has fouled out, and that is the most in any season of his 14-year career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also fouled out in the Cavs' 140-135 overtime win in February in Washington. Sunday was the sixth time in his career that he fouled out of a game.
It was hardly the only call the Cavs had a problem with. There was the jump ball called when Millsap and Kent Bazemore wrapped Kyrie Irving up where the baseline met the sideline out of bounds with four seconds left in regulation. The replay showed both Millsap and Bazemore with a foot out of bounds as referee Derrick Collins rushed in and signaled for the jump ball.
"We had some bad breaks, obviously, with the jump ball," James said. "A couple of their guys were out of bounds. And then with the jump ball for Kyrie in the corner, I'm sitting right next to the ref [Leroy Richardson] and asking for a timeout, and the explanation he gave me, I never heard in my 14-year career. Never. So it doesn't take away from the fact that we still had a huge lead to start the fourth, but every play counts, no matter what is going on."
James was asked to share the explanation that Richardson gave him for turning down his timeout request.
"He told me that I'm not allowed to call timeout because he didn't know who had possession of the ball," James said. "And I was the one who entered the ball to Kyrie. And as soon as I seen Millsap go trap Kyrie in the short corner, I looked at him and called timeout twice -- at least twice -- and he wasn't even paying me no attention. And that's when the jump ball happened. I said, 'Why?' He said, 'I can't call timeout because I don't know who has possession of the ball. I don't know what's going on. I don't know the tie up.' I said, 'That doesn't make any sense because we have the ball. I entered the ball to Kyrie, so you shouldn't even be worried about the tie up or not. I'm calling it as soon as I saw Kyrie is getting tied up in the corner.' So I've never heard that one before. I've never heard that explanation before in my life."
Richardson also called James for a five-second infraction when he was inbounding the ball with 18 seconds left in regulation and the Cavs up 109-105.
"It was pretty quick," James said of the call.
One member of the Cavs could be heard uttering "f---ing Leroy Richardson" outside the visitor's locker room after the game.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue refrained from commenting on the officiating, only shaking his head in agreement that there were several tough calls that did not go in his team's favor.
"Jumping out to that lead, being up 26, that's who we are and that's how we're capable of playing. Everything went wrong for us in that fourth quarter. Every single thing. From inbounding the ball to jump balls, to whatever. Hats off to those guys, they did a good job of coming back in that fourth," Lue said.
There were also two block-charge calls that went against the Cavs in overtime. The first came with 42.1 seconds left, when Kevin Love was initially called for a charge on Mike Dunleavy that would have been Love's sixth foul and forced him out of the game.
The NBA's replay center overturned the ruling on the floor because Dunleavy's feet were inside the restricted circle, but Love, an 87.3 percent free throw shooter this season, went just 1-for-2 from the line following the time spent on the review.
"It was good it got turned over, but missing that first free throw was tough for us because [Mike] Muscala hit that 3 in the corner, which gave them the one-point lead and that eventually kicked them over the top for the rest of the way," Love said. "So it was tough."
Irving was called for an offensive foul shortly thereafter, with Cleveland trailing 123-120 with 12.3 seconds remaining, for making contact with Millsap, who slid over to take a charge from the Cavs' guard.
"How much is the fine for talking about the refs?" Irving said when asked about that charge call. "It's like $50 [thousand], $25? Not worth it. Not worth it, so sorry. I had some good conversation with the refs -- just a few plays that didn't go our way. That's not the kind of the first step that led to the breakdown of what happened in that fourth quarter and why it extended the game. There were some things that could've gone a different way but didn't, and now we just got to move on from here."
Despite the loss, the Cavaliers said they are ready for the postseason.
"We'll be ready. Yup. We'll be ready when it get here," James said. "We still have some things to do with two games left, but yeah, we'll be ready."