Until this week.
This was a bad week for the league and its referees, as the NBA admitted there were blown calls that changed the outcome of two games.
“I’ve been in this league 18 years and I’ve never seen as many missed calls at the end of the game to cost us the game,” Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We have good officials, too good to miss calls and short-change these young men like that. And it’s not right.”
Casey’s complaints came after DeMar DeRozan clearly was clobbered and got no call at the end of Wednesday’s 93-92 loss in Atlanta. The coach may be at the end of his rope.
Earlier this season, the Raptors lost a one-point game to Charlotte when Andrea Bargnani was hacked by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the final seconds and no foul was called. In just the last three weeks, Toronto has lost three games in overtime and two more by a point.
One night later, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle took to the soapbox after Brandan Wright was hit on the arm by Andrew Bogut and got no call in a nationally televised loss to Golden State.
You can also understand why Carlisle may be losing his grip on patience. Dallas is 1-8 in overtime this season, and this week lost back-to-back road games in the final seconds.
Now for the bad news: Those weren’t the blown calls admitted to by the NBA.
The calls the league quietly said were wrong came earlier in the week - on Monday in Denver, where Andre Iguodala’s steal from Indiana’s Paul George should have been a rake, and Tuesday in Portland, where Ronnie Price drew a charge from O.J. Mayo of Dallas that should have been a block.
Having already admitted to two missed calls in just over 24 hours, the NBA apparently felt it had reached its weekly quota of self-examination. Instead of acknowledging that its referees had missed two more calls, the folks at the Olympic Tower turned into Catholic school headmasters, took out their figurative yardsticks and fined Casey and Carlisle $25,000 apiece.
Hey, if you tell the lie long enough, eventually it becomes the truth.
No referee gets every call correct. And all bang-bang calls – especially late in close games – are going to tick off at least half the fans. But the common denominator in all four instances this week was that the home team got the call.
At any level of the game, tilting the whistle toward the home team is always the easiest way out for referees who lose the nerve to call what they see and instead call what they want to hear.
I watch it happen time and again at the high school level, which desperately needs a third referee to police the off-the-ball garbage that often turns dribble drives into power sweeps and second-chance points into 2nd-and-6. I don’t like it, but I’ve come to expect it.
I don’t expect it in the NBA, which loves to make a big to-do of how its referees paid their dues in college and the D-League and have earned the right to officiate the best players in the world. They are given first-class travel, unimpeachable work schedules and the best technology, including the wonderful addition of replay review.