The NBA’s Last Two Minute report for the 76ers’ 112-108 Game 4 win over the Nets showed that Tobias Harris should have been charged a personal foul for wrapping his arms around Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen with 12 seconds left, restricting his freedom of movement.
The NBA releases a report the day after a game that was within three points during any point in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. It details each call made in the last two minutes and notes whether or not the officiating staff made the correct call. It also details notable non-calls or missed calls.
They’ve been doing it since March 2015, in an effort to improve transparency and understanding of officiating. There are many that are appreciative of the league’s efforts.
“It’s like a double-edged sword, you can reconfirm what you thought, good and bad," Brett Brown said before Sixers’ practice in Camden on Monday. "I respect that they’re trying to be transparent and acknowledge mistakes. We’ve been on both ends...I applaud the league for having the guts to put that out and own stuff.”
But there are a few glaring problems with the report. While it does include non-calls and mistakes made by referees, that does very little to ease the mind of a disadvantaged player or team, or change the outcome in any way. And, even if the right call had been made, there’s no way to predict what might have happened, which is the point Harris brought up when asked about the non-call against Allen.
“Who is to say he’d make both free throws anyway?” Harris said. “Game is over. I mean, I understand the league report came out and what not, but it is what it is ... I don’t feel sorry, you know."
Harris also pointed to another note made in the report. With just under two minutes left to play Spencer Dinwiddie carried the ball, discontinuing his dribble in front of the Sixers’ bench. It should have been a turnover, but there was no whistle. It was the only other incorrect non-call of the report.
Had Dinwiddie been called for the carry, or Harris charged a personal foul, the outcome may have been different. But, as we don’t yet have the means to time travel, the information does little for either team.
Another flaw of the report is in its name. The report only covers games which meet the criteria of being within three points in the final two minutes. There is no such report for calls made earlier in the game, or for games in which the score is not so close.
“Refs are going to miss stuff, they’ve missed stuff all series, all season,” Ben Simmons said. “That’s just how the game is played. They can’t get everything, but they do their best.”
Until there are robots or machines calling games, the very human nature of officiating will have a margin for error built in. Simmons is right. The officials can’t get everything, and for the most part they are very good at what is a difficult job in real time.
Again, none of this is a salve for the disadvantaged party; in this case, the Nets.
"I will say this, in this predicament I don’t care about it, but if it was the other way around I’d be upset,” Harris said.
The Nets were certainly upset on Saturday night. Head coach Kenny Atkinson brought up the Harris foul in his postgame interview and Nets general manager Sean Marks was suspended one game and fined $25,000 for entering the referee’s locker room after the game. Nets minority owner Joe Tsai tweeted out his support of Marks late Sunday and was fined $35,000 on Monday for his commentary.
It’s not the first time someone from the Nets has felt unfairly officiated. Dinwiddie aired his frustrations at missed calls and lack of communication between players and referees last season and a FiveThirtyEight report from last year showed that the Nets led the league in missed or blown calls that were a disadvantage for the Brooklyn team.
Despite an attempt at transparency, the NBA remains a dictatorship where officiating is concerned and public criticism almost always draws fines for players, coaches, and executives.
There are really no good answers to the tension that has always existed between officials and players, and there are arguments both for and against the release of the report. Even the referees association is not a fan of the report, seeing it as undermining their position, and as recently as last season calling the report a “flawed process.”
In the end, Harris is right, the game is over. The Sixers won, and they take a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 on Tuesday that will no doubt be fraught with more emotion than ever.