Under The Bleachers: You Gotta Get It Right

After every game, the NBA releases a “Last Two Minute Report” where the league breaks down all the whistles in the final two minutes of its games, assessing the calls that are made.

It’s a great program from a transparency standpoint, with the league essentially making instant performance appraisals of the officials from each game and being open about when these three-person crews make mistakes, which is admirable, but there are some negatives that come along with this openness as well.

Tuesday’s “Last Two Minute Report” for Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder came out and the NBA acknowledged that the officials botched a couple calls late in the game. Those calls altered the outcome of the game, which Oklahoma City won 95-91, as the Thunder collected five points off those two blown calls.

Coming out the next day and saying, “Listen, we got it wrong last night” is great because far too often, leagues and officials refuse to address these things in public and acknowledge that we’re all human and get things wrong from time-to-time. But at the same time, the officials gotta get it right, especially down the stretch in the playoffs.

Missing a call in the closing minutes of Brooklyn at Charlotte in January isn’t a big deal; you still want the referees to get it right, but once the playoffs roll around this lands in “You had one job!” territory and in a tight game on Tuesday night, the officials screwed up not once, but twice. And that’s after the league came out earlier in this series and acknowledge the officials making a plethora of mistakes in the final couple minutes of Game 2.

It’s great that the NBA is acknowledging when officials slip up, but it also shines a light on the fact that NBA officials have been making an inordinate number of mistakes at crucial moments in playoff games and that is a bad look.

The officials have to make the right calls, period. That’s the job. Sure, we all make mistakes in our jobs from time-to-time, but a spelling mistake in a column isn’t the same as blowing a foul call that alters the outcome of a close playoff game. Admitting when you’re guys and gals get it wrong is great, but not getting it wrong is the preferred option.

Because “Our Bad” doesn’t change the fact that Oklahoma City benefitted from a bad call and a missed call in the final minute or give San Antonio a chance to replay the final 60 seconds of that game.

These aren’t block/charge calls that could have gone either way – this was Danny Green tripping over Steven Adams’ leg and getting called for a foul after falling into Kevin Durant’s feet and Kawhi Leonard clearly fouling Russell Westbrook but not getting the call as Russ took it to the bucket for an “And 1” to put the game out of reach. What makes it worse is that games get slowed multiple times for length reviews of whether clear “simple fouls” should be declared “flagrant fouls” (they never are) and to figure out who touched it last.

But when Adams trips up Green sending Durant to the line for two crucial foul shots and Leonard literally grabs after Westbrook in a “have to foul” situation down one, it’s just “play on and we’ll address it later” and that’s just not good enough.

You’ve got to get in right in the moment, refs. You’ve got to do a better job.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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