The Dallas Mavericks are angry after losing Game 5 of the NBA Finals in overtime Sunday night. The Mavs had plenty to complain about after a 101-100 win by the Miami Heat gave Miami a 3-2 series lead with the remaining games scheduled for Dallas on Tuesday and, if needed, Thursday.
And complain the Mavs did, about an alleged botched timeout call, an alleged backcourt violation on the game's deciding play, an alleged offensive foul by Dwyane Wade on the same play, about the foul that was called on Dirk Nowitzki, still on the same play, and about the Heat's 49-25 advantage in free throws, evidence of alleged bias against the Mavericks by the refs.
And don't forget they were already mad because Jerry Stackhouse was suspended for Game 5 as the result of his hard foul on Shaquille O'Neal in Game 4.
I'm often with Mavs owner Mark Cuban -- last seen storming around the court furious amid the Heat's postgame celebration -- in his beefs with NBA officiating, and I think the Mavs have a case on the Nowitzki foul, though good luck not having a foul called on a play where the biggest star still playing knifes through three moving defenders on his way to the bucket.
Even when there's minimal contact -- and the contact on Wade by Devin Harris' leg and Dirk Nowitzki's back would have had to have been quite a bit harder to qualify as minimal -- that just looks like a foul, and it's going to get called every time. It looked like a foul to me until I saw the slow-motion replay. The refs don't get those.
But beyond all that, you just can't complain about the refs after you lose an NBA playoff game. It's like complaining about the patterns of your freckles or the blobs in your lava lamp. These things are mostly random.
Not so random: Wade scoring 43 points, 17 of them in the fourth quarter and an additional four in overtime. He was literally unstoppable down the stretch, hitting big shot after big shot as the teams tussled to the finish.
Also not random: Nowitzki scuffling again, finishing with 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting and missing a crucial free throw down the stretch for the second time in three games -- he was 4-of-5 on the night, numbers that show he didn't spend enough time attacking the basket. To be fair, Nowitzki made some huge plays in crunch time.
Josh Howard also disappeared down the stretch, scoring only two of his 25 points after the end of the third quarter. Actually, disappearing would have been preferable to what he did, which is miss a pair of free throws in the final minute of overtime and commit the blunder of the game, signaling for timeout between Wade's two made free throws, which gave the Heat a one-point lead, with 1.9 seconds to go in the extra period.
That timeout, the Mavericks' last, was their most obvious beef during the game. Coach Avery Johnson had signaled to his players to call time after the second free throw, so Dallas could inbound the ball at midcourt for the final play.
But Howard signaled for it right then, after the first free throw. Referee Joe DeRosa whistled for the timeout, and the Mavs were sunk, reduced to a heave at the buzzer by Harris from beyond the center stripe.
Johnson argued vociferously that the timeout shouldn't have been called then, that the Mavericks were asking for the timeout after the second free throw. Howard said later that he wasn't calling time, that he never made eye contact with DeRosa. Referee Joe Crawford told a pool reporter after the game that Howard signaled not once, but twice, leaving DeRosa no choice.
Howard denied that, but the replays are clear. Howard, lining up on the key for Wade's free throws, signaled for time and began walking toward the Dallas bench. He signaled for time again and DeRosa blew his whistle.
But most telling was Johnson's reaction. After signaling to Howard that he wanted timeout, he began frantically waving his arms, yelling, "Not now, after the second one!" At that point, Howard had signaled once, and DeRosa had made no move to grant the timeout. Howard kept walking, signaling again, and DeRosa made the call.
So if the Mavericks have a beef with DeRosa for thinking Howard was calling time, they also have a beef with Johnson, who thought the same thing and was trying to get Howard to stop.
This never would have occurred to me before Sunday night, but I think I like it when championship-level games are decided on botched timeout calls.
I've always enjoyed Chris Webber's monumental gaffe in the 1993 NCAA Championship Game, when he incurred a technical foul in the closing seconds against North Carolina by trying to call a timeout that Michigan didn't have. I loved it that a team was done in by trying to rely on the very thing I'd like to see excised from the sport.
For the uninitiated, my solution to get rid of all those foul shots and timeouts that mar the end of pro and college basketball games is so simple and elegant it'll never be adopted by the mouth-breathers who run the game: Eliminate foul shots and timeouts.
Surprisingly, after the game, Cuban's biggest beef was on the backcourt violation that went uncalled on Wade on his game-winning play. Wade caught the inbounds pass after taking off from the frontcourt, and he landed in the backcourt. Cuban claimed that's a violation of the rule, that a player has to establish himself in the backcourt before catching the pass for such a play to be legal.
I've never heard of that rule, and ABC announcers Mike Breen and Hubie Brown, both extremely knowledgeable, said nothing about it. The rules digest on NBA.com mentions nothing about such a rule.
The relevant citation seems to be Rule 8-Section III-e (exception). Section e reads, "Any ball out-of-bounds in a team's frontcourt or at the midcourt line cannot be passed into the backcourt. On all backcourt and midcourt violations, the ball shall be awarded to the opposing team at the midcourt line, and must be passed into the frontcourt."
And the exception reads, "EXCEPTION: During the last two minutes of the fourth period and/or any overtime period, the ball may be passed anywhere (frontcourt or backcourt) on the court."
Nothing about establishing in the backcourt.
We can go through the other beefs pretty quickly. Did Wade push off on Jason Terry near midcourt on that last play, before heading to the bucket? Sure, just as he and all players do on about a third of all plays, and get called for maybe a fifth of the time, in random fashion.
Did Nowitzki foul Wade on the layup? Not really, but again, good luck not getting whistled on that one. What was that defense Dallas was playing? Everybody stand around and hope Wade misses?
Should Stackhouse have been suspended for his flying tackle on O'Neal? I'd prefer if such offenses were handled with a disqualification for the rest of the game in which they happen, not the entirety of the next game, but that's nitpicking. Stackhouse deserved to get the thumb for that play.
And about that free-throw differential? Well, quit jacking up jump shots and drive the lane.
There was at least one play where the Mavs could have picked up a couple of free throws. No big deal, it was only the last play of regulation.
With the score tied 93-93, Terry took the inbounds pass near the top of the key with 2.8 seconds left, guarded by Wade. He faked right and got by Wade with a crossover dribble to the left. Then he stopped at the left elbow and quickly pump faked. Three Heat, Wade, O'Neal and James Posey, had converged on him, and they all leapt at the fake. Then Terry went straight up and missed his 15-footer at the buzzer.
If he'd jumped into any of the three flying Miamians, he'd have been shooting two free throws with no time on the clock, needing to make one for the win. It's a bad rule but it's the rule, or at least that's the way the rule is called roughly 100 percent of the time. Jump into a guy who's in the air, and the foul's on him.
You can't bitch about the refs.
You just have to stop the other team's best player from time to time and go from there, and for three games in a row, Dallas has failed to do that. Wade scored 42, 36 and 43 games in the three Miami home wins.
Wade was merely human in the first two games, home wins for Dallas, but he was still feeling the effects of a stomach virus that laid him low in the semifinals. If the Mavericks can't figure out a way to reproduce those results without benefit of germ warfare, they can go ahead and make plans for Thursday night.
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