Wednesday night’s Game 3 was widely considered to be one of the most well-played, exciting NBA Finals contests of all time. Friday night’s Game 4 was … something else entirely.
It’s weird to think Game 4 wasn’t a good basketball game when Cleveland hit 24 3-pointers and set a Finals record for points in a quarter with 49 in the opening frame. By avoiding a sweep, the Cavaliers shut down the discussion of Golden State as the best team ever. There is no historic 16-0 postseason, mostly because one of the greatest players in the history of the sport decided he wouldn’t allow it, and his supporting cast finally came along for the ride.
LeBron James game threw an alley-oop to himself off the backboard like he was Tracy McGrady in the All-Star Game. There was a lot of fun basketball on Friday night.
Yet, much of it will get lost, because everything will get overshadowed by the absolute boondoggle that was the game’s officiating. It’s not uncommon for referees to catch an unfair amount of heat, but Game 4 officials Mike Callahan, John Goble, and Marc Davis offered a truly inept performance for the ages. Their actions Friday left Golden State fans thinking the league was caping for the Cavaliers, Cleveland fans thinking the league was in the Warriors’ pockets, and all impartial observers scratching their heads at the absolute circus unfolding before their eyes.
We’ll start with the biggest issue. As I’m sure you heard, Draymond Green played in the game after being ejected, like it was an MTV Rock N’ Jock game and not the NBA Finals.
To quickly recap: Green picked up what everyone assumed was his second technical foul midway through the third quarter for arguing a foul call … except the referees said that the technical foul Green had been assessed in the first half (for inadvertently hitting Iman Shumpert in the head) was on head coach Steve Kerr for arguing the call. This was in spite of the fact that everyone — from the official scorers, to what was written on the league scoresheet, to Steve Kerr himself — thought the technical was on Green.
The only person who seemed to have actually thought the first technical was on Kerr was Draymond:
Draymond Green says he knew he wasn't called for a first-half T b/c Mike Callahan told another official it was on Kerr, not him.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) June 10, 2017
In the referee pool report after the game, John Goble said the officiating team could have done a better job verbalizing the first technical foul better, which sounded as fishy to Cleveland fans as the catfish being thrown on the ice in the NHL Stanley Cup Final.
While this entire mess was being sorted out, Green was bobbing his head on the bench as the entire arena chanted, “Draymond sucks.” Asked about it after the game, Draymond basically called the entire city of Cleveland dumb. There are more crazy storylines in this series than the “Twin Peaks” revival.
Aside from the Draymond saga, the officiating crew made a number of other questionable decisions. Zaza Pachulia continued to cement his reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league by blatantly punching Iman Shumpert in the testicles:
Here is the Zaza punch to the groin. ????????????pic.twitter.com/z7lvyaiszC
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeagueTSL) June 10, 2017
Despite the refs reviewing the play, Pachulia did not receive the appropriate punishment. However, someone who did get called for a flagrant foul was Kevin Love, who accidentally hit Kevin Durant in the head on a shot block attempt. Even though the play seemed incredibly routine and not the least bit malicious, referees upheld the flagrant even after review.
There were also countless more mundane, run-of-the-mill terrible calls (or non-calls). Shumpert will receive an Emmy Award in the mail for getting a call by making it seem Steph Curry grabbed him in transition. Video evidence shows Curry barely laid a hand on him, but Shumpert jumped like somebody shot him:
— NBA (@hofmatchup) June 10, 2017
The referees also missed an obvious backcourt violation call when Kyrie Irving lost the handle with Klay Thompson two feet off him. Kyrie is a wizard with the ball, so it’s hard to believe he would make an unforced error, but nobody’s perfect:
Of course, all the confused officiating brought out the conspiracy theorists.
We know Warriors owners will make about $11 million more in revenue thanks to the series heading back to the Bay Area for Game 5. Another television broadcast and the associated hype around the series continuing a few more days are great for the league. The last thing the NBA wanted was a sweep after a historically non-competitive postseason.
Monday night, whether you’re rooting for Cleveland, Golden State, or just good entertainment, let’s just hope the focus moves away from the men in stripes and back to the teams in uniform. The matchup between one of the best teams and one of the greatest players ever deserves a focus on the Warriors and Cavs, not the men blowing the whistles.
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