Monday, June 19, 2006

NBA Finals: Game 5 Comment

Bennett Salvatore prevented the Mavs being in a commanding position - from which they would've enjoyed strong odds of winning the NBA Championship. It's nauseating to reflect that NBA referees never want to "decide the game" on a last second shot, and that their code is to blow a last second whistle only if the offensive player draws very obvious and obstructive contact.

I doubt very many, if any, NBA officials have it out for Mark Cuban. I've faith in their professionalism. That said, if any referee has it out for Cuban, Bennett Salvatore is a good candidate to be that ref. Salvatore is old school - old old ooooollllldddd school - East Coast, old country, Italian. EVERYTHING about Mark Cuban could easily stick in Bennett Salvatore's craw. Salvatore is a good candidate to have said to himself:

"If I see any sliver of justifiable contact here, I'm making the call. F___ Mark Cuban. It's payback time."

Did Salvatore do that? I've not one single clue, and it's useless to dwell on it. But it is kind of fun to notice it.

All that said, the Mavericks beat themselves, through sloppy offense and defense down the stretch - as well as through Dirk and Josh Howard missing 3 free throws. Bitching about an NBA call is exactly like a batter who bitches about getting bad calls on third strikes: the batter should hit the ball before two strikes are on him. Otherwise, he's setting himself up for bad things to happen. The Mavs set themselves up for bad things to happen. It was the Mavs' own fault they lost the game. They should've had a points cushion at the end.

In Dallas, they are showing the last play over and over on TV. Wade said he got hit twice on the play. He didn't get hit. Here's what actually happened:

1. In a very close play, Wade arguably touched the inbounds pass in the frontcourt, before moving into the backcourt. Personally, I say the tie goes to the catcher. I would not have called a backcourt violation.

2. Wade dribbles right. When Terry attempts to cut him off on the sideline, Wade administers a forearm shiver. Terry trips and goes down, flying out of bounds. As an NBA referee, I would've let this last-second, jostling contact go w/o a call - mostly b/c Terry partially slip/tripped. It's a close judgment, though. Wade's forearm did contribute to Terry's slip/trip, and did free him of Terry's defense, and did give Wade a competitive advantage.

3. Now, with Terry out of bounds, and laying beside the press table, Wade heads up the sideline, towards the baseline. He is doubled by Howard - closest to the baseline, and by Harris - closest to midcourt. At this moment, as Wade advances towards the corner, he is dead. He is pinned by two quick guys. He has zero chance of going around either of Howard or Harris; and can only evade through a risky attempt to dribble/split between them. Howard and Harris both have aggressive hands. Both will go for Wade's dribble if he tries to split them. If Wade attempts a corner jumper, he will be heavily pressed from the front by Howard. Harris will be coming from his side, and will be swiping at his shot from over the top. Wade is just about dead. The Mavericks are about to win.

In response - in cheating, yet brilliant response - Wade reprises Michael Jordan's championship shove against Byron what's-his-name of the old Utah Jazz - only, instead of shoving Howard, Wade grabs a gigantic fistful of Howard's shorts, and mightily slings Howard - by Howard's own shorts - towards the baseline. It was a mighty sling - but it was fast and smooth. If I was a referee, I likely would've missed it. However, it was definitely a foul, and it extricated Wade from a very difficult spot. If a ref had seen it, it deserved, w/o a doubt, to be called. In a perfectly refereed game, Howard would've been shooting free throws at the other end, with about 4 seconds on the clock.

The shove moved Howard towards the baseline a bit. What the shove really did was enable Wade to perform a world-class change of direction - as if he had been running down the street, then used a telephone pole to shove himself back in the direction he just came from. The change of direction was so severe that Wade actually passed around the mid-court side of Devin Harris - something which would've been impossible - absent using Howard as a human telephone pole. This is how Harris happened to have his left hand on Wade's right hip as Wade drove to the basket. As Wade went around him on his mid-court side, Harris spun clockwise about 250 degrees.

You saw the rest. Nowitski did an excellent job avoiding the foul, yet distracting Wade with hand and arm movements. On his own, Wade lost control of the ball as he passed Nowitski. Wade desperately fought to control the ball, and to shove it up towards the basket. Nowitski's hand and arm movements attracted Bennett Salvatore's attention. The Mavericks had the rebound in hand.

Salvatore's whistle came from directly behind Wade. Salvatore was positioned behind the play: towards midcourt, and towards press row. When the play began, Salvatore had the best angle on the inbounds pass which could've been called for a backcourt violation, yet made no call. Salvatore was nearest to Wade's forearm shove of Terry, when Terry slip-tripped under the scorer's table, yet made no call. Salvatore, positioned near press row, and looking directly down the sideline towards the baseline, had the best angle on Wade's grab and sling of Howard, yet made no call. Salvatore had absolutely no angle to call Nowitski for a foul. Salvatore was 25 feet behind Wade, and looking directly at Wade's back. Nowitski's arm slashed vertically in front of Wade, without touching him. From behind Wade's back, blind to whether Nowitski's vertically slashing arm touched the front of Wade, Salvatore made the call. Hmmm.

Well, it WAS a heck of an exciting play. World-class athletes on display. As a Mavericks' fan, I know how Utah Jazz fans felt when Michael Jordan committed an offensive foul on his game-winning shot. Byron what's-his-name should've been shooting free throws on the other end. The Jazz were ripped off.

My only consolation is that the loss was the Maverick's own fault. They should've had a points cushion at that juncture.

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