Anyone watching Tuesday nights playoff matchup between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat witnessed the most poorly officiated game of the post-season thus far.
In a game that was in the end, decided by 3 measley points and a hell of a lot of bad calls (or no calls more importantly), the Pacers snatched homecourt advantage in one foul swoop, putting Miami's all-or-nothing season in serious jeopardy.
In what was a fairly lackluster first half, with both teams struggling offensively, the Heat held a narrow five point advantage going into the break. It was not until the 3rd quarter that things became interesting.
Mario Chalmers, who found himself in early foul trouble, picked up his 4th personal just 3 minutes into the second half on what was arguably the biggest phantom call of the season. With Pacers guard George Hill getting out on the fast break, Chalmers made the wise decision to back off, and allow his opponent the easy layup to avoid being charged for yet another indescrepency. In what seemed like a pre-determined decision, the official at midcourt blew the whistle, sending Hill to the free throw line yet again, leaving the official red-faced. The video replay was met by a deafening chorus of boos from the American Airlines Arena crowd, clearly showing that absolutely no contact between the two opponents had taken place.
With 8:19 left in the 3rd, after an unsuccessful offensive set by the Heat, LeBron James was forced to jack up a deep 3-point attempt in order to beat the 24 second shotclock. The 3-point attempt missed, but after ricocheting off the rim, the offensive rebound was pounced upon by Dwyane Wade. Noticing James cutting ferociously to the basket, Wade slipped the ball to his teammate for the wide open layup, only to have the play broken up by the referees whistle waving away the basket. The officials had incorrectly penalized the Heat for a 24 second shotclock violation, and subsequently reversed the call upon video review. Instead of reinstating James' 2 points, the officials awarded the Heat the inbound from the sideline, where on the ensuing play, Miami's Udonis Haslem turned the ball over, and the Heat came away from the set scoreless.
Moments later, with the Heat leading 46-41, and looking to extend the lead, the officials made another crucial call awarding the Pacers possession after the lose ball had ventured out of bounds, clearly last touched by Pacers Center Roy Hibbert. Where the Heat should have found themselves with an offensive possession to potentially extend the lead to 7+, they instead found their lead cut to just 3 after a Danny Granger field goal on the ensuing possession. This sparked an impressive hot-streak for the visitors, taking advantage of the Heats warranted frustrations and embarking on a 12-0 run to take a 53-46 lead with 3:15 remaining in the period.
Unable to stem the bleeding, Miami saw themselves fall further behind, as the Pacers closed out the quarter in fashion, playing well enough in the remaining few minutes to take a 9 point lead into the fourth.
Having been held to just 52 points in 36 minutes, the Heat had their work cut out for them if they were to mount a comeback in the final period. They had for the most part put the bad calls behind them, and started the 4th quarter on a tear, smothering their opponents on the defensive end and eating into the Pacers lead. Little did they know, the worst was yet to come.
With 9:57 left to play, and the Pacers game looking shaky, Miami got out on another breakaway after a long miss by Leandro Barbosa. As Dwyane Wade flew down the court on his way to the rim, he was wrapped up and beat down by Indiana reserve Dahntay Jones, in what can only be described as an extremely hard playoff foul. Expecting (and deserving) to be put on the free throw line, Wade watched in disbelief as the Pacers took off downcourt to snatch another transition basket against the run of play. How the referees could swallow their whistles on such a blatant and dangerous foul is hard to comprehend.
Understandably incensed by the no-call, Wade let his frustrations get the better of him by committing an 'extremely hard playoff foul' of his own on Pacers PG Darren Collison the next play down the court. The officials had no intentions of letting this one slide, branding Wade with a Flagrant 1, extending Indiana's lead back to 9 after Collison made the resulting free throws.
Despite the adversity, the Heat were in no mood to lie down and concede defeat. They clawed their way back into contention, and had cut the lead to 65-60 with 7:25 remaining. After forcing yet another Pacers turnover, Miami were once again on the attack. As James beat his man to the rim for the easy lay-in, he was hit around the head and neck with such force that he lost his headband. A minor scuffle between James and Granger ensued, but rather than the officials awarding the "And 1", no foul was called on the play, and both players were instead assessed technicals. This play right here was arguably the hardest no-foul call the league has seen in a decade.
Whilst the two teams continued to go at each other for the remainder of the game, you got the feeling that the officials were never going to give Miami the break they needed to take back, and hold onto the lead. The game came down to the final possession, in which Mario Chalmers found himself taking the 3-pointer which could potentially force overtime. The shot was no good, but replays clearly showed that Darren Collison had got a piece of Chalmers right elbow as he attempted to release the ball. Chalmers should have been going to the free-throw line to shoot 3, but the officials were having none of it.
In a cruel twist of fate, the Heat saw themselves on the wrong end of a similar call in their first round matchup with the Knicks, whereby Shane Battier was deemed to have fouled Carmelo Anthony on a crucial, late game 3-point attempt. Anthony was awarded the free-throws, despite the replays clearly showing that zero contact was ever made.
For such a talented team like Miami, surrounded by so much hype and expectation, it would be a tragedy to think that the only thing getting in the way of them winning the Championship could be the officiating. Lets hope this Pacer v Heat matchup was the last game of the season where the referees decided the outcome.