With 3:19 to go in the game, Giannis committed his fifth foul. Brad Stevens would take that scenario in a heartbeat - an even game with three minutes to go and Giannis in foul trouble. But yet again, we saw that the same rules don't apply to everyone. Usually, when you commit 6 fouls, the game is done for you. Giannis obviously gets to make 8.
With 2:30 to go, Giannis was chasing Brown around a screen and punched Theis in the stomach. This seems to be important because, as far we've been explained, that's not a hostile act. If Giannis had punched Theis in his personal area, then it would've been a foul. So for future reference - stomach is fair game.
The refs explained it after the game, and it was the worst kind of bureaucracy you can imagine. Because they stopped the play to review a possible hostile act, they can't call a foul they see in the replay. Given their position punching someone's "belt line" isn't hostile, they can't call a foul, even if there is one on the video.
With 1:30 to go, Giannis was going up for a putback and charged Marcus Smart. The Celtics guard planted his feet outside the restricted zone, but the refs called a foul on Smart. Here's how he commented on the decision after the game.
“The excuse was I was late on drawing the charge. Quite frankly, I think we all know what that was about. It was Giannis' sixth foul. [They] didn't want to get him out. Let's just call that spade a spade.”
Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were also confused with the calls. But, when they talked about the refs' decision, Van Gundy agreed with Smart's point of view, but not his sentiment. “They want Giannis in the game, and I like it!” This drives me crazy. I get it; you want the stars on the court at the end of a close game. But here's a thought - maybe they don't foul and get to stay in the game. If you are (soon to be) two time MVP, then you shouldn't need the refs to help you win the game. Aren't you supposed to be able to do it on your own? Yet another reminder it's a business, man.
This wasn't the only frustrating refereeing episode last night. Thought the Memphis - Portland game, there were four or five technical calls for taunting that drove all us watching crazy. Players would literally look at a player they just dunked on for half a second while landing, and get called for a tech. At least this ridiculous, pointless, un-basketball application of rules was enforced equally on both teams. But still, these were nowhere near, causing any sort of altercation on the court. One of the most crucial seeding games was neutered by bad refereeing.
Look, it's hard to be a ref in the NBA; I get it. Let's just hope the refs also need time to get back in their groove. But some of these decisions don't seem to be a matter of rust, but as a symptom of a problematic general direction that's been happening for a while now.
All three games that mattered (Blazers - Grizzlies, Bucks - Celtics, Mavericks - Rockets) went down to the wire; two went to overtime. I hope we don't have more great games tainted by bizarre refereeing in crucial moments.
P.S. I used every ounce of self-control not to include a few calls on Harden that were just....I give up.