Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sore Loser

Note: Since writing this post, I've gone on to do an entire blog on the Dallas Mavericks.

I think I'm finally at peace about the Dallas Mavericks' season.

If you don't follow the NBA, you should know that my team made it to the Finals for the first time in its history, won the first two games emphatically, and then lost four in a row (and the series) to Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.

However, even though I probably won't lose any more sleep over this (and I have lost sleep since June 20), I want to make a simple request, that anyone out there who enjoys NBA basketball watch 5 youtube clips before we put the 2005-2006 season to bed.

Let me explain.

Ordinarily, only Losers make excuses. But I truly feel that the referees, for two games of the NBA Finals, made enough unfair calls in favor of Miami's Dwyane Wade that the Mavericks did not get a fair shot at winning the series. Clearly, they could have (and, frankly, should have) overcome the bad officiating, but I feel justified in my complaints because I don't think Miami could have beat Dallas without it.

Let me give an excerpt from a column by Bill Simmons, a sports writer for who's a Celtics fan but likes the way Dallas plays:

In my Finals preview, I wrote that "No team depends on the refs quite like the Heat. When the refs are calling all the bumps on Shaq and protecting Wade on every drive, they're unstoppable. When they're calling everything fairly, they're eminently beatable. If they're not getting any calls, they're just about hopeless. I could see the refs swinging two games in Miami's favor during this series, possibly three. In fact, I'm already depressed about it and the series hasn't even started yet." Well, we had our two games -- Game 3 (the last five minutes were just obscene) and Game 5 (again, a top-five debacle). And the series isn't over yet.

[Note: I looked over the play-by-play of game 3, and Simmons must be mistaken. There's only one foul call in Wade's favor in that stretch. But game 5 was pretty bad.]

Simmons made those comments after game 5, an overtime thriller featuring 3 lead changes in the last 30 seconds. The last lead change, in favor of Miami, came on two Dwyane Wade free throws due to a questionable foul call against the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki after Wade drove, out of control, into the lane and missed a wild shot with 1.9 seconds left and the Mavs leading by 1. The referee who made the call was out of position, and is known for making highly questionable calls in favor of the home team in big games (Miami was at home). If there's no foul call, the buzzer sounds (barring a miracle) and the Mavs win.

This was an exceedingly frustrating loss for Dallas, and Miami took a 3-2 series lead.

But game 6 was probably worse.

OK, just watch these 5 clips of the Mavericks supposedly fouling Dwyane Wade, and decide if the Mavericks were give a reasonable opportunity to win the game. Whatever you decide, I'll be satisfied knowing that people saw what really happened.

1: Wade flops on a jump shot

2: Wade throws his shoulder into Devin Harris

3: Marquis Daniels doesn't even touch Wade

4: Does Daniels push Wade that hard?

5: Wade thows a hard elbow into Dirk

While the third clip is the most blatantly bad foul call, it's the last clip that's the most painful. The Mavericks were down by a point with less than 30 seconds left, and the Heat had the ball. Not an enviable position for Dallas. But this happens to good teams all the time. The test is whether they can get a defensive stop and get the ball back with a chance to win.

I don't think Dallas was given a fair opportunity to defend Wade on that crucial play.

He threw a hard elbow into Dirk's gut, which should have been an offensive foul against Wade. That would have sent Dirk to the line with 26 seconds left and a chance to hit two free throws and give Dallas the lead. Instead, they called the foul against Dirk, and Wade went to the line for his 18th and 19th free throw attempts of the game. The Heat went on to win the game by 3, which gave them the championship and Wade the MVP trophy.

It often gets said in sports that a true champion will find a way to win, will hit the big shot when it counts. My complaint about the finals is, the Heat didn't make these big plays any better than the Mavericks did, at least not in games 5 and 6. Both teams hit and missed on big plays. But Wade, in each of these clips from throughout the game, was given free throws that the Mavericks didn't receive.

Considering three of the Heat wins were decided by 1, 2, and 3 points, I would argue that that matters. It makes me sad that the Mavericks couldn't pull off the victory anyway. But what made me angry is that I don't think the Heat could have pulled off the victory either, without the favorable calls.

When you've invested a lot in a team, that's tough to swallow.