One of the constant themes through a frustrating 12-game start to the season so far has been the lack of respect the Raptors have received from the officials. The numbers alone are indicative, as the Raps sit 13th in the NBA with 23.8 free throw attempts per game, allow the third-most free throws against at 27.8 and sit fourth from the bottom with a -4 free throws attempted differential.
But those numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.
To me, those numbers are more an indication of aggressive defence (obviously sometimes too aggressive) that includes guys like Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas picking up their share of calls, though I think we can all agree that DeMar DeRozan deserves a few extra free throw attempts here and there.
More than the raw number of fouls committed or the discrepancy in free throw attempts, it’s the timing of non-calls that has bothered me so far this season, especially since the most glaring ones have come in the final minutes of close games that usually end up in Raptors losses.
We saw it on opening night, when the refs put their whistles away as the Raptors faded down the stretch, and have seen it all too often this season, but never was it as obvious as Wednesday night in Charlotte. It started with Jonas Valanciunas fouling out on a debatable call with 56 seconds left. Kemba Walker caught Valanciunas in the air, got the contact and basket, and eventually converted the and-1 play to tie the game at 96. I was actually fine with the call, since there was evidence of the foul, and the way I saw it, a penetrating guard will almost always get that call against a rookie big man or inexperienced big man, or so I thought.
Kyle Lowry appeared to be clearly fouled by Bismack Biyombo in the final 10 seconds without a call, and then of course on the final play of the game, rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made contact with Andrea Bargnani’s hand right in front of a referee, who apparently shouldn’t be expected to see what’s directly in front of him.
On Wednesday, the overall 28-20 advantage in free throw attempts for the Bobcats didn’t bother me, but the fact that the most obvious foul of all wasn’t called in the dying seconds did. Give Bargnani, who is typically automatic from the line, two deserved free throws to win the game, and I don’t think anyone’s complaining about Toronto only taking 22 attempts from the line as opposed to Charlotte’s 28.
Aside from the incompetent crunch time officiating, I think my biggest complaint, as many NBA fans and players would agree, is that there is no consistency from a minute-to-minute basis, let alone on a game-to-game basis. I’ve been at games where every single bump and nudge is called at the beginning of a quarter to quickly put one or both teams into the penalty, where then the whistles get put away just a few minutes later and neither team can even capitalize on being in the bonus.
And I understand how difficult it must to be to make a decision on a block or charge call in real time, as you can make the argument it’s the toughest play to call in all of sports, but I’m not talking about those 50/50 calls. I’m talking about plays where a guy’s hand is clearly smacked right in front of your eyes or where a player is practically mugged in mid-air driving to the basket. Heck, Jose Calderon was repeatedly kneed by Mo Williams on one play against the Jazz without a damn whistle.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Raptors haven’t played well enough overall to have a much better record than the 3-9 mark they currently sport, and they’ve done their fair share of shooting themselves in the foot. After all, their free throw shooting has gone cold over the last four games, with the team missing some big time attempts from the charity stripe against the Sixers on Tuesday and DeMar DeRozan missing one of his two free throws in the final minute against the Bobcats on Wednesday.
If Lowry hits more of his fourth quarter free throws against Philly, maybe the Raptors hold off the 76ers’ rally. If DeRozan makes both of his free throws with 47 seconds left last night instead of just one, the game ends up in overtime, even with the blown call on the final play.
Anyone who thinks the officiating alone is the reason the Raptors are 3-9 right now is delusional, and is giving this team too much credit. But having said that, anyone who has watched the Raptors play this season and still thinks the officiating hasn’t contributed to the poor start at all is just as delusional.
The refs make an indelible impact on each and every game, and for the most part, the Raptors have been on the wrong end of that impact so far this season. That’s not an excuse for the team’s disappointing record. It’s just an easily observable fact.