The final moments of game five of the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls series has created quite a storm. And I understand why, but I don’t understand why. The play/call that’s been questioned the most is the foul by Rajon Rondo on Brad Miller, which wasn’t necessarily the most-questionable call of the game.
As we all now have seen, Miller ended up wide open in the middle of the court, drove to the hoop, got swatted in the face by Rajon Rondo as he went up and flipped a shot up at the rim that ended up not even being close. Miller subsequently stepped up to the line, after getting his oral bleeding under control, and missed the first (unintentionally) by a mile, and missed the second shot (intentionally) and didn’t even hit the rim. All while in some pain and discomfort, and doing a fantastic acting job to appear severely disabled by the blow to the head.
Let me say that I have grown up as a Celtics fan, so my preference between the two teams is undoubtable, but I’d like to think of myself as being able to objectively look at situations like this.
Now back to the play. The end result is that Celtics fans are glad a flagrant foul wasn’t called as that would’ve given Chicago two shots and the ball with 2.0 seconds left on the clock. Chicago fans will be crying until the 2010 playoffs that there should’ve been a flagrant foul called on the play because Rondo, “didn’t make a play on the ball.”Â
Henry Abbott when out of his way to condemn the actions of Rondo while ignoring some important facts. Abbott cites author David Thorpe’s book, Training Like a Pro, stating that when driving to the basket, underhand shots are not acceptable because they’re easily altered by fouls, and less controllable in general. But Abbott completely ignores that if Miller actually did take an overhand shot, as any sound defender (read: Rondo) would expect him to, the ball and Miller’s arm would be next to his head, and directly in the path of Rondo’s swinging arm.
My personal opinion is that the foul lies somewhere in between a personal foul and a flagrant foul. More egregious than a personal foul, but not excessive enough to warrant a flagrant foul. And clearly not even in the same discussion as the elbow that Dwight Howard levied againstÂ Samuel Dalembert, which I find to be an absolutely disgusting play. So in a situation like that, where a call can greatly alter the course of the game, the officials sided with the lesser offense, in the process, failing to give one team (the Bulls) a distinct advantage at that point in the game. A technical foul might sound like a nice alternative, but that cannot be assessed for physical contact during live play.
Abbott goes on to conveniently mis-define a flagrant foul, implying that there must be a “play on the ball” for a foul to not be flagrant, and claims that Miller had a wide-open layout, when Paul Pierce was out of position, under the basket, and Kendrick Perkins challenged Miller at the rim. In actuality, a Flagrant-1 can be accessed if “contact committed against a player… is interpreted to be unnecessary or excessive.” A Flagrant-2 can be accessed if “contact committed against a player… is interpreted to be unnecessary AND excessive.”
One could argue that all fouls of any nature are unnecessary and excessive in the context of game play. But that’s just as ridiculous as Abbott’s other arguments. I guarantee that Rondo would much preferred that Miller take an overhand shot, brought the ball back by his shoulder so that Rondo could’ve knocked it out of his hands and gotten a clean block. But Miller tried to avoid the defender like the smart player that he is, get the hoop and the foul. It just didn’t work out like either of them had planned.Â
Interestingly, the phrase “play on the ball” never appears in the section on Flagrant and Technical Fouls in the NBA rule book. The officials saw the play, made the call, reviewed the play over and over again, and then reaffirmed the call. They had every chance to change the call, but they made the correct call, according to the rules.
As Bill Simmons pointed out “if the Bulls fans want to whine about it, fine, just remember that (A.) Boston’s best clutch guy (Ray Allen) fouled out on two of the worst calls of the playoffs, and (B.) Ben Gordon stepped out of bounds right as he got fouled by Tony “Why Am I In The Game Again?” Allen for three game-tying free throws in the final 30 seconds. Sweeping incompetence will eventually even out over time.” And after over a decade of “breaks” being given to the Bulls thanks to Michael Jordan’s superstar status, you’d think they’d be a little more understanding when a call doesn’t go their way, instead of acting like the Spurs.
And if you want to complain about the call occuring in the new Boston Garden, consider this. According to the Boston Herald, “at least one member of the Celtics entourage was taken aback at the sight of the officiating crew exiting the United Center. Two of the three members of the group, which consisted of Danny Crawford, Bill Kennedy and Marc Davis, were spotted with their families decked out in Bulls gear.Â Kennedy ejected Celtics coach Doc Rivers from a game in Chicago on March 17, and two days later was fined (as was Rivers) for his actions.” I believe that the officials (most of them) have the ability to remain objective and do their jobs. But their families sure don’t make it easy on them.
If we determined calls according to the outcome or injury of the play there would be a whole different NBA. One that no one would want to play in or watch. So to Abbott and all of the other chuckleheads that have never played organized basketball and taken a hard foul, stop thinking about Miller’s injury, and start thinking about the actual play. If Rondo had fallen and gotten a concussion after committing the foul, would that have changed your feelings about whether it should be a flagrant or not? Of course not, and neither should the stitches Miller had to get inside of his mouth.
Update: In game six of the series Rondo got tagged with a Flagrant-1 foul after getting tangled up with Kirk Hinrich and flinging him into the scorers table. Hinrich then incited a minor skirmish for which he justly received a technical foul, since it was a dead-ball foul at that point. Once again, the officials made the right calls on both sides.