The one consistent thread in all of the playoff games was that the officiating was horrible. Ridiculously bad. Uneven. It felt less like than the playoffs and more like a random game in February. Take yesterday. The Charlotte Bobcats consistently drove into the lane and consistently got hammered- Gary Neal and Luke Ridenour flat on their backs-and got nothing from the officials. While breathing air on Lebron sent him to the line. In the Chicago game, in the 4th quarter of a close and tough contest, a Noah tip in was offensive interference. It wasn’t called giving the Bulls 2 points they didn’t deserve. In the Houston game Dwight Howard had a blatant travel, he took 100 steps and not only was he not called for traveling, he was given two free throws. The officiating got off to a great start-ha- in the Clippers Warriors game. In the closing minutes Chris Paul was bumped out of bounds by the bulky body of Warriors super sub Draymond Green. Nothing was called. But on the bright side it was just 8 games. Look at it this way. When you start at the bottom- that would be you zebras- the only way to go is up.
After their wild comeback win in Houston last night, the Blazer’s 46 point, 18 rebound man of the moment, LaMarcus Aldridge, said he told his teammates before the game they had to take their individual matchups seriously. Take it personal. At halftime of the Wizards Bulls game, Wizards coach Randy Wittman told his players to stay in the fight. After losing to the Miami Heat and injuring his foot Al Jefferson said, “you just have to suck it up.” Steph Curry, after beating the Clippers, said he knew his team was not going to panic, they were going to continue to fight the game. Fight. Tough. Serious. This is more than language, it is how you build a playoff team. You have players who have mental resolve. You have coaches that mirror toughness. Or perhaps it is the opposite, the coaches are the tough ones and the players follow their example. In the end both have heart and guts; it is a requirement to get to the playoffs. In the documentary Bad Boys, a story is recounted in which Chuck Daly, on his first day as coach, sat with Isiah Thomas and asked him: do you want to have fun or do you want to win? Because you can’t have both.
All year long everything had been going according to the Dwight Howard playbook. He stayed healthy. His move to Houston took him out of the TMZ glare and he had a quiet season in which he rarely made the news. Without Kobe he was able to enjoy the All Star game. The Rockets earned a 4th seed which meant his presence was a difference maker. They went from the 8th seed in 2013 to the 4th seed in 2014. But the playoffs are the ultimate dig in the trenches, are you tough or are you silly, competition. The Rockets had a 10 point lead with 4 minutes left, blew it, allowed a 10-0 run, then blew a 6 point overtime lead. Dwight missed free throws which allowed the Blazers back in. He missed a key rebound which allowed Aldridge a game tying tip in. His shots were typically Howard-esque, the dunks went in, the rest were bad misses. Changing scenery has not changed his post up biography. He is the worst post up player in the league. He has the most post up turnovers. But none of that matters anymore. We expect superstars to deliver. He took the money in Houston because it was his best chance to win a championship. He tried once in 2008-09 and failed, unable to make free throws down the stretch, unable to lead. Here he is again. But history repeats itself half of the time. Howard’s reputation is on the line. He is 28 years old; there is no going back anymore. No excuses. For him it is all or nothing and without Kobe Bryant to blame, he is a man on an island.