rockets review: game 10 vs. bulls

Today’s recap is going to be a bit different. It’s going to be a combination of a recap and a soapbox-speech of the state of refereeing in the NBA.

The Rockets ended up going down by 3 to the Bulls after a stellar performance from Derrick Rose. The match see-sawed the whole way, with each team alternating between good and bad as the game progressed from quarter to quarter. In the end, the Bulls were on the upswing when it mattered and managed to pull out the victory.

Derrick Rose was in prime shooting form today, connecting on four of his five attempted three pointers. If a guy like Rose, who is a career 24 percent three-point shooter, starts knocking it down from distance, teams are going to have a hard time controlling the Bulls defensively. Of course, Rose’s fine shooting may simply be a reflection of the Rockets poor perimeter defense. It was certainly aided in large part by Lowry’s stubborn decision to go under every single pick-and-roll, even when his man was en fuego.

For the Rockets, Kevin Martin had a very poor game offensively, struggling from the field and padding his stats with garbage-time points and free throws. He took a lot of questionable shots in the first half instead of working the ball around. Scola was good—very good, in fact—and kept his match-up quiet on the offensive end, for the most part (Deng went 6-for-21 and Gibson went 1-for-9). He was very active offensively and was the only guy who seemed to be playing with any consistency. Brad Miller was also very good in the nearly 40 minutes that he clocked today.

In the end, though, we lost this game ourselves with a major contribution from the referees. Yahoo! Sports’ box score says Houston only committed 19 turnovers in the game, but I’m pretty sure the real number is in the mid-20s. We were completely careless with the basketball save for the first quarter, where we had only two giveaways. Our bench was apathetic and abysmal today. They had no rhythm and no chemistry and couldn’t even put up a shot in what seemed like one in three possessions. Granted, the Tom Thibodeau-led defense was stifling, but our bench has to come to play if we are to make any sort of mark this season.

Now, soapbox time.

About 10 months ago, I blogged about why I thought the offensive rule foul in the NBA was an extremely poor rule. Even though the Rockets have two of the most flagrant offenders—Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes—and get a good production from Jared Jeffries, Kyle Lowry and Shane Battier from that front. The offensive foul, like so many other rules in the NBA, is implemented so subjectively. What annoys me more than anything else is the referees are constantly attempting to balance calls out. What this means is that if you get a call at one end, you usually end up getting the same call at the other end. This is particularly true in the case of moving screens, where I would venture that most calls happen in back-to-back possessions.

Also, there is the fact that the NBA has a definite leaning towards star players. The brand needs the star players, for sure, but the rules should be equal for everyone. Star players routinely get to the line (Kobe is the most obvious example) whereas lesser known players may get hacked but don’t get as much love from the refs. For example, the leading free-throw shooters this season have been Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook’s status as a star player is definitely questionable, but KD gets to the line with such regularity that it is a bit absurd.

The NBA has also tried to integrate technology into the game, which I think is a good thing, because it exposes the cunning gamesmanship exhibited by many of the players. Today, the Rockets were at the wrong end of that a couple of times and it cost the team five points that had already been put up on the board. In the case of the first offense—a three-pointer knocked down by Lowry as the clock expired, the refs overturned the call a full three minutes later, since the rules dictate that you can only overturn a call at a stoppage in play. In the second instance, it was slightly better because the ball was deflected out of bounds by a Bulls player a couple of plays after the questionable shot happened.

In the case of the Rockets, the first offense meant going from one possession down to two, at a time when the Bulls were building a run to begin the fourth quarter. This completely changed the dynamic and momentum of the team. While I think the correct decision was made, I think the rule needs to be modified so that the refs can immediately check out the questionable decision. After all, these sorts of situations don’t happen all that often, and if a 24-second shot clock violation has indeed occurred, it necessitates a stoppage in play anyway.

One other issue I have is with the inconsistencies of calls such as carrying, traveling, lane violations, inbounding balls, etc. The NBA is bereft with traveling and trying to weed it out would probably result in teams averaging 20 turnovers a game. The most common instance of such traveling is when an offensive player, who hasn’t yet started his dribble, shuffles and takes two steps before putting the ball on the floor. If you watch an NBA game closely, you would notice that players commit this offense probably half of the time. How does a referee then decide when to call it and when not to call it? It becomes so subjective. The rule either has to be applied unilaterally or not at all—or you will always have people questioning the referees.

The same thing goes with lane violations on free throws. Today we saw a lane violation called on the Rockets late in the fourth quarter. Ronnie Brewer missed the extra free throw, but lane violations occur, I would guess, greater than 80 percent of the time a contested free throw is taken. What led to the refs deciding to call that specific violation? It becomes absolutely subjective and furthermore, it could drastically alter the end result of the game, in a close game such as this encounter.

Finally, I’d like to formally voice my concern with the “new” technical foul rule that David Stern announced over the summer. Folks, this is probably one of the most hideously implemented rules in the game. While I agree with it in principle—prevent players from arguing with the refs—the actual wording and implementation of it by the referees is broken. Players can get a technical called for vociferously arguing with the ref or even just walking away with what the referee determines as being “contempt”. As with any rule in the NBA, further leniency is shown with star players and teams. For example, in the opening game of this season (Rockets-Lakers), Martin got called for a technical for disagreeing with the ref, and not even doing so ostentatiously.

Late in the fourth, with the game really close, Lamar Odom did not get a foul call and screamed at the ref with an obvious show of disagreement. No technical there, because who would dare have the Lakers lose on the same night they were given their championship rings?

Like the traveling rule and other offenses players routinely commit, the technical foul rule is completely subjective and hampers the momentum of the teams. I do not agree with some former players who claim it is taking the emotion out of the game. Emotion is not displayed by abusing the referee. Historically speaking, I would presume less than one percent of calls have been overturned after arguing with the referee, and one hundred percent of those calls are probably overturned only if the group of referees has made different calls to begin with.

In short, the NBA needs to take a good, long look at how refereeing is done in the game to prevent losing viewership. It is almost a Catch-22 system, because calling star players for offenses they commit will put them on the bench, decreasing viewership. At the same time, if weaker teams do not get calls just for being weak, small-market franchises will eventually erode away. Personally, I’m much more in favor of a hands-off approach. The referees should only really be blowing their whistle if players are starting to get chippy with each other or if an obvious offense has been committed. The NBA is not a perfect implementation of basketball rules, so there’s no point in making a half-assed attempt to call violations such as traveling and carrying. Let the players play and the fans will watch.

Back to the Rockets, our next match-up is tomorrow against the offensively superior Oklahoma City Thunder, led by scoring leader Kevin Durant and gifted point guard, Russell Westbrook. Given that our starters nearly all played 40 minutes tonight and we couldn’t get the win, tomorrow is not a lot more optimistic as the guys will all be tired. The Rockets bench really needs to step up tomorrow. Here’s hoping that Chase Budinger is back in the mix. With Yao out for another week and AB’s injury quite serious, it’s looking a little shaky for the Rockets, now.

That said Houston played a good game of basketball tonight for the most part. Turnovers were the downfall. Oh, and that one guy named Derrick Rose.

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