Dissenters and critics were in their caves for so long (since February 1st to be exact) that they had ample amount of time to descend upon the Miami Heat’s when the winning streak would come to its end.
Frankly, I expected better material.
Instead of speaking about the game itself, where the Chicago Bulls made an extremely uncharacteristic 61 points from outside of the paint in a game they scored 101 overall, the talk the day after is purely surrounding LeBron James’ comments regarding the officiating.
“It’s been happening all year, and I’ve been able to keep my cool and try to tell Spo, Let’s not worry about it. But it is getting to me a little bit. Every time I try to defend myself, I’ve got to face the consequences of a flagrant or a technical foul or whatever the case may be.”
LeBron, who finished with 32 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks, and 2 steals, is referring to two plays specifically. Despite getting to the line for 11 free throw attempts, James displayed rare visible frustration, and audible frustration, towards the way the game was officiated.
It wasn’t the average day where LeBron voices his concerns and complaints to the officials throughout the course of the game, something that occurs with every superstar. No, LeBron was particularly adamant about the leeway the Bulls were receiving with their hits.
As much as everyone wants to talk about the good ol’ days when Bill Laimbeer clotheslining people was the greatest thing to happen to basketball, this is 2013. Flagrants, and fouls overall, are softer now because the commissioner of the league doesn’t want his talent to get clobbered every time they drive to the rim.
It’s disturbing how many sadists are watching the NBA. This longing for days where fist-fights interrupted games, centers the size of Redwoods got away with stuff that would get you thrown in prison, and plays like this where it’s only considered a testament to how hard everyone was playing.
The NBA is a business. As much blame as you want to put on Stern for the “pussification” of the league, he’s only trying to protect his investments.
You want to put the blame on someone? Blame everyone’s hero, and new favorite LeBron comparison, Michael Jordan. The NBA made it a purpose to protect him because of teams like the Detroit Pistons.
Now the NBA is expected to protect LeBron James. That didn’t happen last night.
In fact, it doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. These claims that James is a golden-boy of sorts is as ridiculous as anybody who believes the Miami Heat do receive special treatment.
LeBron only ranks 7th in free throw attempts per game. James Harden (10.3), Kevin Durant (9.4), Dwight Howard (9.2), Kevin Love (7.9), Carmelo Anthony (7.8) and Kobe Bryant (7.5) are all taking more free throws per game than James (7.1).
LeBron is averaging his lowest amount of free throws per game since his rookie season. Wade as well. Being able to rely heavier on shooters like Ray Allen and Shane Battier has eliminated the need for those two to drive as much as before, but they’re also not getting the same calls they used to.
They’ll both receive their usual superstar treatment, but it’s not nearly to the point of it being an unfair advantage, especially when both players are averaging career-lows at that aspect of the game.
And for the Heat as a team receiving preferential treatment? They rank 10th. The Oklahoma City Thunder (leaders with 27.6 attempts per), Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Bobcats, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers are all taking more free throws per than the Heat (23.2)
Considering James and Dwyane Wade were attempting at least ten free throws per game at one point in their career, the Heat getting 23 free throw attempts in an average game doesn’t seem as significant and unfair as many projected it would be.
But back to the situation at hand. LeBron’s claims that there were instances where basketball plays weren’t made fall on to two instances
The first play:
Kirk Hinrich was without much of a choice there, and he could have possibly drawn a charging foul had he planted himself.
The problem is that instead of attempting to draw a charge, he increases LeBron’s momentum to the ground by wrapping himself around James. Hinrich has a reputation for cheap shots (I’ve watched too much Wade-Hinrich matchups for anyone to convince me otherwise), but it wasn’t a flagrant.
Hinrich was dragging LeBron to the floor, but James initiated contact and momentum. This one can slide.
The second play, however, there are several questioning factors
How many other players do you know can get fouled by three different players on one drive? Luol Deng grabs James’ left arm, then Jimmy Butler grabs his right (when the foul is called), and then Taj Gibson swoops in to throw an arm into James’ chest that also knocks his headband slightly off.
I’m convinced the headband isn’t there just for sweat. It’s there as a marker for officials to see when James is taking shots to the head. Gibson was able to land a blow that started off on LeBron’s chest, before raking his hand and following through on James’ forehead.
You want 1980’s basketball? Here you go. So what are you complaining about now? That LeBron James is complaining about physical play?
What other athlete in the sporting world cares more about their image than LeBron James? He’s toned it down to the point where you can’t get the guy to say something remotely egotistical.
Everything LeBron says is calculated nowadays. He doesn’t want the negative press anymore. If he’s to the point where he’s openly criticizing officiating, then maybe there is some merit and credibility in his frustration.
But we won’t listen. Because LeBron James, the first-ever NBA golden boy to rank 7th in free throw attempts per game, is expected to take the contact and deal with it. Just like Shaquille O’Neal, a titan who was abused due to the shots he took on a nightly basis.
Unless you’ve watched every game this season, you have no understanding of the abuse LeBron can take. Even at 6’9″, 250-pounds, James isn’t as big as the 7-footers that are hacking him, nor is he durable enough to take hits from smaller players for up to 40 minutes.
Compare the fouls that LeBron receives with the type of fouls Kevin Durant is gifted. Despite taking 985 jumpers, over 200 more than LeBron, and only 282 shots near the rim, over 200 less than LeBron, he has gone to the foul line nearly twice the amount of times James has.
But LeBron is getting the special treatment? The guy who gets 45 percent of his shots near the rim and only goes to the line seven times?
LeBron’s free throw attempts per is the lowest among the league’s top five scorers.
Last night was frustration boiling over. LeBron’s been getting hit, he was getting hit more than usual against Chicago, and he got mad. There’s no need for the inquisition of LeBron’s character and mental stability.
LeBron knows enough about the Bulls being a physical team. He’s only played them in a playoff series and a few extremely intense regular season games, so I’m pretty sure LeBron gets the idea that Chicago is aggressive.
Something last night set LeBron off. There have been games and entire playoff series where James received harder contact and didn’t complain. Last night against Chicago, however, LeBron finally snapped.
Frankly, LeBron’s going to have to deal with it. As long as he is the most physically intimidating player in the NBA, he will continue to be extremely difficult to officiate on both ends of the floor.
He’s not going to receive the treatment he received in Cleveland. While he certainly doesn’t deserve to be hit in the head multiple times with only a regular foul (it’s a flagrant in today’s league), he’s also going to have to embrace the physical nature of teams like Chicago and Indiana who have no problem in throwing elbows and shivers.
The Heat didn’t lose to Chicago because of the officiating, and LeBron should be commended just for not pinning the entire loss on that.
The Heat’s downfall was caused by absurdly good shooting by the Bulls, solid work on denying open perimeter looks, and Chris Bosh’s embarrassing lack of aggression under the rim.
People may claim the Bulls now have the blueprint to beat the Heat, but no team that averages 92 points per game is going to consistently have 60 percent of their points come from outside of the paint.
Chalk it up as another hot-shooting game for a Heat opponent. It’s nothing to be impressed by. Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, and Jimmy Butler can make 22-footers for only so long.
They’re in the exact same company as Wayne Ellington, Austin Daye, and Will Bynum. Or guys that see a Heat jersey on the other end and have the greatest games of their careers.
Get your shots in now. The playoffs aren’t too far away in case you forgot.