Maybe if Tom Thibodeau hadn’t challenged an obvious foul called on Derrick Rose, the Knicks would’ve had a timeout they could’ve used to draw up a much better final shot than the one they got. Maybe if Mitchell Robinson didn’t reach in to try and steal the ball from James Johnson in the final seconds, he could’ve forced a missed and kept the game knotted up.
There were a lot of hypotheticals. But the biggest revelation from a game the Knicks certainly could’ve won came after the fact during the postgame press conference. Courtesy of New York’s leading man.
“They said because certain contact doesn’t affect me like it affects other players because I’m stronger, they miss the calls,” Julius Randle said.
Lots of NBA players complain about the refs at various points throughout the season, which is why it’s almost always taken with a grain of salt. But this isn’t your average complaint. Assuming what Randle said is true (it’s been over 24 hours and the NBA’s Referee Association hasn’t indicated otherwise), we’re talking about the admission of a fundamental difference in the way one person is reffed compared to others. It’s bogus and Randle should be pissed. Because it clearly influenced his performance.
In nearly 40 minutes of action, Randle attempted just two free throws, half the amount Brooklyn’s Cam Thomas earned roughly half the amount of minutes. His absence from the stripe wasn’t due to a lack of aggression. Randle hoisted 22 shots. He drove the ball 11 times, slightly more than what he did on a per-game basis last season.
“I know Julius was driving that ball pretty darn hard and I’m pissed,” Thibodeau said after the game.
Randle is a big man. Standing 6’8’’ and weighing roughly 250 pounds, he is a handful attacking the basket, where he’s averaged north of 5.0 free throws per game in each of the last five seasons. The idea that he should be penalized for the physical advantage he holds over most of the league doesn’t make any sense.
In the play below, when Randle spins baseline midway through the fourth quarter, James Harden has his right hand on Randle’s back and his left hand swiping at Randle’s legs.
Whether Randle is “affected” by the play isn’t a call for the refs to make. They couldn’t possibly know the influence of Harden’s contact. Even if they did, it’s irrelevant. A foul is a foul. It really is that simple.
“It pisses me off even more, to be honest with you,” Randle said when asked about his reaction to what the refs told him. “Because that is not how you officiate the game.”
Randle’s frustration with the referees on this night was no doubt exacerbated by the whistle Brooklyn seemed to get all night long. The Nets took 25 free throws in this game. New York got only 12.
It’s easy to feel like every free-throw discrepancy should be viewed as an indictment on the refs when that is hardly ever the case. There is proof in the numbers, though. The Knicks were a +6 in overall shot attempts over the Nets in this game and +9 on drives. Yet they took 13 fewer free throws? If it looks like a duck and smells like a duck...
Randle absorbed so much physical punishment all night long trying to get to his spots while dealing with a barrage of additional coverage and barely got a whistle. Yet Harden can earn the kind of calls we thought the NBA had outlawed.
I know. It’s not fair for me to pluck out and compare two independent plays with nothing to do with each other. Given what the numbers tell us, consider it the representation of the themes for the teams in question on this night.
One team earned an easy whistle. The other didn’t. Thibs said it best:
“I don’t really care how the game’s called. I really don’t,” he said. “You can call it tight. You can call it loose. But it’s gotta be the same.”