The Grizzlies-Thunder playoff series is shaping up more and more to be a battle of contrasting styles. It is speed and fluidity versus bump and grind. It is amazing high flying dunks and rainbow threes versus elbows and effort.
The Thunder want to get out and run, play fast and don’t really like to play too rough. They have elite athletes with incredible physical skills. To put it in racecar terms they are a Formula 1 type of team. They prefer open roadways and graceful speed. In fact the Formula 1 website (formula1.com) goes so far as to say that modern formula 1 race cars have more in common with a jet fighter as it does with an ordinary race car.
That is the Thunder.
Memphis, on the other hand, plays a (to some) less attractive style. More like an NBA version of stock cars. They look just like someone you could see on the street every day (albeit a few inches taller than most). The Grizzlies can move fast but they aren’t afraid to mix it up either when they find themselves in a crowd. Whatever it takes to win is what they are willing to do. Usually this involves immersion in mud for the Grizzlies as well as the opposing team.
The Grizzlies win races but rarely without a dent to themselves and their opponents.
And this is why fans of the Grizzlies have struggled with the officiating overall this season and particularly in the playoffs.
They see Zach Randolph getting abused down low with body blows and arm locks with nothing being called. They see Conley getting run over attempting to take a charge with nothing being called. Then they see a Thunder player being lightly touched after the ball has left the shooter’s hand and being rewarded with free throws.
It may not appear to be fair but it is. Or at least you can’t blame the officials for calling the game that way. Not that I am condoning the questionable calls. I just realize they are doing what they have been told to do.
The referees are just like any employees and, when their bosses tell them what they need to be focusing on in the playoffs, they find a way to make those calls. Referees get paid a rather large amount of their total income based on how many playoff games they officiate. It is human nature to feel that they need to call more fouls based on what their bosses are telling them are ‘points of emphasis’ for them if they want those large paychecks at the end of the season.
And the league has published exactly what those points of emphasis are in the 2014 Playoff Points of Emphasis Video link. They have gone so far as to make the information available to the public. The points of emphasis before this year’s playoffs are: Freedom of movement, illegal screens, travelling, point of contact, push/pull plays, verticality and flagrant fouls.
We can debate the logic of making these “suggestions” public but at least everyone should be able to understand why the calls are being made the way they are.
This is the problem I see. When you emphasize certain points of the rules, aren’t you in effect de-emphasizing other rules? If that is the intention then the league is telling referees that there are different classes of rules, some to be adhered to more than others. That is frustrating to players and fans alike. If the league is emphasizing point of contact shooting fouls on the perimeter, aren’t they in effect ignoring point of contact fouls in the paint?
Guess where the Grizzlies get the majority of their points too.
When you watch the video you will see the league is encouraging a style of play more conducive to scoring and open court play by their Points of Emphasis. This is more of a Formula 1 style of play. That is not the style the Memphis Grizzlies play. Naturally fans of the Grizzlies feel slighted by the referees. They play a NASCAR style of basketball with plenty of bumping and feeling.
Consider this quote from the video to the referees from the first 45 seconds of the video: “Defenders, you have to allow offensive players with or without the ball to move freely on the court so you do not upset their offensive sets.” Upsetting the offensive sets of your opponent the essence of good defense and the basis of the Grizzlies grit and grind style of play.
The league shouldn’t be advising referees or players to stop disrupting the offensive team’s sets. They shouldn’t be pointing out the rules they want enforced versus those they don’t care about enforcing. Rules should be absolutes not subject to interpretation after all.
So remember these things as the games continue in Memphis. The calls aren’t likely to be that different here than they were in Oklahoma City because the refs are being told what the league offices want called. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, this is not going to make things easier for the team to pull the upset despite their win in Game 2.