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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Foul is a Foul is a Foul

Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics in the Garden in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  It was a hard fought defensive struggle where a young team proved they could beat a veteran team in a close game on the road.  But, all the talk after the game centered around a foul that was called on Kevin Garnett during the Celtics' last meaningful offensive possession.  Boston trailed the game 78-75 with 10 seconds to go.  Boston inbounded the ball in their own end.  Kevin Garnett set a screen on Andre Iguadala that allowed Paul Pierce to get a wide open look at a 3-pointer from the top of the key.  But, Garnett was called for an illegal screen (his 3rd of the game), and the Sixers salted away the game at the foul line.

The post game criticism from the commentators was not that Garnett did not commit a foul.  No.  The constant chorus was, "You don't make that call at that point in the game."  Pundits and retired players cried out that we want the players, not the refs to decide a game.  I whole-heartedly agree with that principle ... in all sports.  I detest when a home plate umpire injects himself into a game by picking fights with a disgruntled batter.   I can't stand it when defensive backs are flagged for breathing too hard on a wide receiver.  And, I enjoy a physical basketball game.

But, the principle that players should decide the game does not lead to the conclusion that refs should swallow their whistle in the final minute of a basketball game.  First of all, the idea that calling a foul is somehow deciding the game any more than not calling one decides it is simply false.  Either way, the contact was a deciding factor.  If that contact is illegal, then it should be called a foul.  Let's take this to the world of baseball.  If the bases are loaded in a tie game in the ninth inning, do we want umpires to call strikes 6 inches off the plate so as to not decide the game with a walk?  Of course not.  That's a ludicrous suggestion.  If you want to debate the proper strike zone, that's fine.  If you want to debate touch fouls, that's fine, too.  But if something is a strike in the first inning then it should be a strike in the ninth.  And if something is a foul in the first minute, then it should be a foul in the last minute.

Last night, Garnett committed a foul.  The referees made the proper call.  And the proper team won the game.


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