By Today’s NBA Standards, Durant Made the Right Decision
With little time remaining in last night’s game 2 and a deficit of only 2 points, Oklahoma City inbounded the ball to Kevin Durant on the baseline, guarded tightly by LeBron James. As Durant turned to face the basket, just about 7 feet away, he felt LeBron’s arm crossing his chest and proceeded to rise for a short-range jumper that fell just a little short. Contact or not, it’s a shot that KD makes probably 7 or 8 times out of 10. But with the shot rimming out, the game’s outcome was left in the hands of the referees. And this time around, no whistles were blown.
After James grabbed the rebound and was promptly fouled, Durant threw his arms up in confusion and Westbrook mouthed his disgust for the lack of a whistle on the play. Our generous ABC programmers showed us a multitude of replays and it was clear that James was reaching across Durant’s body shortly before Durant took the shot.
In today’s NBA, the referee’s whistle can be your best friend or worst enemy. I say today’s NBA because over the course of the last decade or so, “selling the foul” and “flopping” have become pivotal aspects of the game. I don’t think referees in the 80s would have known what to do with a Dwayne Wade pump-fake-foul-draw or an Anderson Varejao flail-into-the-seats. Just raise an eyebrow and let the game keep going?
In my ideal NBA, the league’s top scorer would have used the contact from LeBron as leverage towards getting to the hoop, driving down the baseline and using that 7-foot-wing-span to toss a reverse layup into the hoop and tie the game. But that’s not the way today’s NBA players are trained to act in the clutch. It’s nothing against Durant or James or anyone else who may have the ball in crunch time, it’s just the way things have become.
While Stern has claimed he’s going to nail down on floppers next season in order to increase the level of play, accomplishing this would still only be a stepping stone in the NBA’s development in my opinion. I want to see an NBA where players are looking to score on their own, not relying on a third party to get them to the free-throw strike, where game-deciding shots go up while the clock is still running, and there’s no doubt or controversy as to how the outcome should have been. I’m not saying “no-blood, no-foul” guidelines, but just that some of the touch fouls should be let go so that we don’t have players complaining at every possible stoppage point. That way, an arm-bar like LeBron’s last night wouldn’t have sparked nearly as much of an uprising from the Thunder faithful, and it may have prompted Durant to seek a shot he'll make 98 out of 100 times.